PASTOR'S BLOG


JUNE

In the last few days, the idea of leaving Cedartown and Kresge UMC has become much more real for Bobbie, Adam, and I. We are busy packing and deciding what to take with us and what needs to be offered to a friend or taken to Goodwill. I have been packing the office and Bobbie and Adam the house. Everything that we touch reminds us of a person or a time in our lives. Some of those memories are fun to recall; others are difficult. But, all are a part of the people that we are today.

During this time of transition, one topic of the conversations that seems to always make its way into our times with friends and church family is the difficulty of, and the dislike for, the “moving and changing pastors” part of our United Methodist connectional system. I will be the first to admit that transitions and changes are not my favorite part of our United Methodist connection and our relatedness. Yet, I believe that change is good for both pastors and churches so that we might continue to add our bricks and help build the Kingdom of God in our part of the world. And, because these transitions happen every few years, churches and pastors have the opportunity to see ourselves and our ministries through new eyes. We are invited to see new places where we might grow. We change our approach to ministry as new and fresh ideas come into our churches and the minds and hearts of our pastors, as new partnerships are created. I believe that somehow God is at work through these transitions for His good and His glory.

Still, there is the reality of changing relationships. But there has been from the beginning of our time together. Four years ago when Bobbie and I came to be with you, you didn’t know what you were getting and we didn’t either. But, we have grown to know one another and have had a wonderful time together! I also want to say that with your help and support, I have grown as a pastor in more ways than I realized were possible. Thank you so much for the ways that you have helped me to become the best version of me that I can be, at this time in my life!

Folks, there are simply not enough words to adequately express the gratitude that we feel because of the kindness we have been shown, the warmth we have felt, and the way that you have made us a part of your family. Thank you for all that each of you has done to include us in your lives. As I finish my thoughts, I ask that you treat Ed and Cindy in the same way that you have treated us. Make them a part of your family. Help them to understand how they can strengthen the ministries of this wonderful church. And know that the influence of Kresge UMC and its wonderful people will always influence our ministry, wherever we may be.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


MAY

I don’t know about you, but I am always looking for something better. That should not be heard as my saying I am dissatisfied with my life or circumstances today. I simply mean to say that I am always looking to be more efficient in my daily activities, more in-tune with my surroundings, and more caring toward the people that I interact with each day. Without the desire to improve, we fall into ruts and maybe miss God’s best for our lives.

So, imagine my delight as I was reading the Gospel of John not long ago and encountered, again, John 10:10, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly.” My mind began to absolutely race when I read the words that say that Jesus wants me to have an even “more abundant” life than the one that I have today. I mean how could I ever hear better news? Jesus is in agreement with me, right?

Well, as it turns out, Jesus had an idea of what the abundant life looked like, in your life and mine, even before we began to consider what that could mean. Where often our understanding of the abundant life is filled with the trappings of today, Jesus has something more and better in mind. So often we fail to remember that the world that we see today is only temporary. That what we see will one day be replaced with the perfection found in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve sought something “better” in this world by eating the forbidden fruit. As you know, the story of humanity goes downhill from there. Sickness, disease, dishonesty, pride and a host of other maladies became a part of the human condition and thus began the present cycle of desire-scheme-get what we want, desire-scheme-get what we want, desire-scheme-get what we want, that so often dominates our hearts and minds today. In the middle of our errant desires, Jesus said I have something better. I want you to have more.

As the Apostle Paul encouraged the Christians at Colossae to set their mind on things above and not on earthly things, we too need to look beyond the immediate to desire that which will move us closer to God. Not long ago as I thought about the abundant life that every person who has given their life to Jesus Christ is called to live, the Spirit reminded me that the abundant life is not the life that simply possesses the toys of this word. But, the abundant life is life lived in the presence of God and it is a life guided by the Holy Spirit of God. It is a life that will fulfill us and bring us contentment.

Often when we finally get the shiny things of this life that we so desire, we find that their shine fades and the space that we thought they would fill is soon empty again. The things of this world drain us of life. They box us in. They make life a burden. And, they cause our lives to become a place where there is no joy to be had. But the life that focuses on those things that God desires for us, things such as communion with God, prayer that is a conversation with God, and the presence of God when life gives us its worst. Those things fill us up, they give us strength, and they turn the hardest times of life into times that we can know the joy of the Lord because God is our strength and our refuge.

We all want the abundant life. But until we understand what the abundant life looks like, and from where it comes, we will never know its joy.

Peace and Blessings,
Allen


APRIL

I am an idea kind of person who likes to think about and understand things. Maybe you have noticed. My dad used to say, and sometimes still does, "Allen, you think too much." I guess that I do, sometimes even to the point of whipping the proverbial "dead horse", hoping to get it to go a little further and probably frustrating those who are thinking with me. But still, I just like to think about things, especially those that are separated by only the finest of details. Sometimes these thinking sessions result in a headache. But, other times they open doors of understanding that make a profound impact on my life.

For instance, a while back, a friend of mine and I were talking, and I made the statement that a covenant was like a contract. He disagreed, and I challenged him to explain. We went back and forth a few minutes, and the result of the conversation was that neither one of us understood covenants and contracts to the degree that we could speak intelligently about them, and definitely not to the degree that we could help someone else understand them. Therefore, that subject became the focus of some of my "spare time thinking" for a while. To help bring you a little deeper into my conversation with my friend and into the reason that I think that it is important to be able to make the distinction between a covenant and a contract, I begin with numbers. Just good old fashioned counting tells us that we find the word "covenant" many times in the Bible. As a matter of fact, it is found 295 times in the Old Testament and 37 times in the New Testament when counted in the NIV translation of the Bible. But we find the word "contract" a grand total of zero times. So, I had to ask myself why did my beloved and much learned Old Testament professor so long ago say that a covenant was like a contract?

To the best of my figuring, he described it that way because contract was a word and a concept that his students, including me, could understand and we were somewhat familiar. In that, both a contract and a covenant have two participating parties with some degree of responsibility to one another. That comparison is correct on the surface, but still not complete and maybe a little deceiving when we dig a little deeper. A contract in its most basic terms is an agreement between two parties with each party having specific responsibilities to the other. For instance automobile loans or home mortgages. In such contracts, each entity has specific responsibilities. The buyer has a responsibility to make payments at prescribed times, and the seller in return has the responsibility to accurately record the receipt of these payments and relinquish ownership to the buyer when he or she has made all of the payments. Also when examining a contract, we see that a contract is legalistic and self-serving, in that each party sees it as a document that gives them certain rights and binds the other party to complete that which were agreed upon. Covenants, on the other hand, are very different. Where a contract is made in suspicion, a covenant is made in trust with the intent of cementing love and relationship; think about marriage vows. Where a contract is about setting limits and creating boundaries, a covenant opens the parties involved to one another more fully; again think marriage vows. Where a contract is a guarantee, a covenant is a pledge from one person to another for the other person’s good and the good of the relationship. Where a contract depends on an outside source to enforce it and binds the makers of the contract, a covenant relies solely on the commitment of one person to another.

Why is the distinction between contracts and covenants so important to me, today? The reason is the empty tomb of Easter is so easy to simply acknowledge and celebrate one time a year. Then we walk away without really understanding the depth of the covenant that God has made with us. When God made a covenant with Noah, it was sealed with a rainbow. When God made a covenant with Abraham, it was sealed in the promise of an eternal lineage. As for us, God has made a covenant of life. A life, abundant and eternal, that provides to the uttermost, maybe not in money or worldly treasures, but a life based on living and understanding the love of God. A covenant that always has our best interest at its center, a covenant initiated not for gain, but for love. The Apostle Paul, as he tried to capture this thought for himself, and for the church of Ephesus, said it this way. That you may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

We are people whom God has made a covenant with: people who have been promised life, people with a sure hope, people who have the opportunity and the ability to truly know God’s love for us. This year, as we continue to prepare for and then celebrate Easter, let’s intentionally live as people who are evermore exploring the covenant God has made with us that we might have life and have it more abundantly.

Peace and blessings,

Allen

 


MARCH

I am frustrated with myself today. I am frustrated with myself because I have allowed the season of Lent to catch me by surprise this year. I have good excuses. I have been busy with church. I have been busy with my Doctor of Ministry project. I have been busy with my leadership program. I have been busy in other areas of my life. And, as I look back on them, all of them seem to be good and positive things. But, just the same, I am frustrated. I mean how am I going to rid my house and my life of the things that I am going to fast and avoid this holy season of Lent to show Jesus how much I love Him?

Do you notice that from the lines above that I am the focus of my thoughts? That Lent and fasting or sacrificing the joy of something is at the center of my thinking, instead of Jesus? See I think that sometimes that the season of Lent can become a religious trap that we fall into with our eyes wide open. Let me explain. Somewhere in our past, someone has told us that real Christians deny themselves something that the love during Lent to show Jesus how much we really love Him. Chocolate, fried foods, refined sugar products you name it, anything can be fair game. By giving up these things, somehow we are supposed to be saying that we are willing to suffer right along side of Jesus for these forty days.

Something seems wrong with that thinking doesn’t it? I mean is all that we need to do, or all that we have to do, to tell Jesus that we believe in Him and love Him is hide the fried chicken or chocolate cake from ourselves from now until Easter morning, and then we can resume our lives as before? No, if that is all there is to it, I believe that we are missing the point. If that is all there is, then Lent is just one more thing for churchgoers to do, and one more stumbling block for those who are learning about the Christian faith.

Could it be is time to give Lent up altogether? I don’t think so. Instead, it is time to start thinking about and participating in the season and disciplines of Lent in a way that is more in line with Scripture. In Matthew 6 Jesus is teaching on the spiritual practices of the religious leaders of His day. He talks about how they make a show of their faith by praying on street corners and how when they fast they make it obvious by looking miserable so that people will notice that they are outstanding at being very religious. Jesus goes on to say, though, that they are missing the point. That what they are doing is an attempt to draw attention to themselves, rather than drawing closer to God. If we take that passage and apply it to our lives, we might find that it stings a little. But, I promise the result is worth any present pain these words might cause.

So, here is my suggestion as we launch out into the holy season Lent this year. First read Matthew 6: 1-18 a few times. Do it slowly and intentionally. Then pray and ask God what part of your life you can change during the season of Lent so that you will become a more authentic follower of Jesus Christ. For you, it may be giving something up, a daily habit or a daily treat and when the craving comes for that thing let change during the season of Lent so that you will become a more authentic follower of Jesus Christ. For you, it may be giving something up, a daily habit or a daily treat and when the craving comes for that thing let that be a reminder to pray or to read a certain passage of Scripture. Or maybe the thing that you need to do to be a more faithful authentic follower of Jesus Christ is to add something to your life, like daily time or prayer or devotion, or maybe the habit of being more welcoming so that you have more opportunities to share your faith. Whatever practice, habit, or fast, you feel God speaking to you about is the right thing for you. But make sure not to let this holy season be about your will or your endurance. Instead, set your goal of becoming a more authentic disciple of Jesus Christ so that others can see Christ in you. That will be forty days well spent.

Peace and Blessings, Allen


FEBRUARY

The month of February has begun and with it comes thoughts of love. We see them everywhere. Heart balloons tied in bouquets waiting for someone to take them home to their true love. Hallmark cards with all of the messages found inside meant to express our deepest affections to our sweethearts. And, of course, there are heart-shaped boxes of candy. Some with ribbons and bows, some covered in velvet, some with Minnie Mouse, and some with more pictures of hearts adorning their cover. All promising chocolates, and confections in abundance. It sure sounds like love, or, does it?

I ask that question because I think love gets short-changed in our modern society and even in our minds. Somehow love has become something that is reserved for those that we have affection for, and no one else. But to think, and act, and live that way blurs the image of what love is supposed to be. Because love did not come into being the first time one person saw another and their insides started to melt. Rather, love and all of its expressions originated in the heart and mind of God.

As we consider love and try to understand it from a Biblical perspective, the writer of 1 John makes a troubling statement. He writes “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves God is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1st John 4:7-8). Such a statement makes us stop and think, doesn’t it? If this is true, and it must be as this idea is such a great measure of the tenor and teaching of the Scriptures, then these words tell us that our love cannot be reserved just for our sweethearts and our close circle of friends. Instead for us to love God, our love must be a huge portion of the fabric of our lives, as well. It means that as we look at other people and the lives that they live our responsibility when we engage them should be in line with the way that we believe God might engage them. Boy, that makes life hard.

So what? Well, I guess the reason that I write about love today is that there are a whole lot of people in our world, and a lot of folks that we know, that make it so hard to practice love. I mean people say mean things today. People post mean things on Facebook and other forms of social media. People take advantage of the weak and the less fortunate in our society. People do so many things that we could easily allow to be our justification for not being loving like our faith says that we should. But, their actions cannot be our excuse. Because as a child of God we are called to love, not matter what.

February is often called the month of love. How about you and me each, day try, to take our love to the next level? That someone pushes us further than they should we turn the other cheek if that is what God would do. That we close our Facebook feed before we make a comment or reply in a way that we shouldn’t. That the next time that someone has almost pushed to the place of being hateful, let us chose love. The rewards that we will find will be better than even a box of chocolates.

Peace and Blessing,

Allen

 


JANUARY 2017

The celebration of the New Year on January 1st is a relatively new phenomenon. The earliest recording of a New Year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, c. 2000 B.C. and was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid-March. A variety of other dates tied to the seasons were also used by various ancient cultures. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began their new year with the fall equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice.

The early Roman calendar designated March 1 as the New Year. The calendar had just ten months, beginning with March. That the New Year once began with the month of March is still reflected in some of the names of the months. September through December, our ninth through twelfth months, were originally positioned as the seventh through tenth months (septem is Latin for "seven," octo is "eight," novem is "nine," and decem is "ten."

The first time the new year was celebrated on January 1st was in Rome in 153 B.C. (In fact, the month of January did not even exist until around 700 B.C., when the second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius, added the months of January and February.) The new year was moved from March to January because that was the beginning of the civil year.

In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar. The Julian calendar decreed that the new year would occur with January 1, and within the Roman world, January 1 became the consistently observed start of the new year.

In medieval Europe, however, the celebrations accompanying the new year were considered pagan and unchristian like, and in 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on Dec. 25, the birth of Jesus; March 1; March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation; and Easter.

In 1582, the Gregorian calendar reform restored January 1 as new year's day. Although most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it was only gradually adopted among Protestant countries. The British, for example, did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752. Until then, the British Empire —and their American colonies— still celebrated the new year in March.

New Year’s Traditions

Probably the most famous tradition in the United States is the dropping of the New Year ball in Times Square, New York City, at 11:59 P.M. Thousands gather to watch the ball make its one-minute descent, arriving exactly at midnight. The tradition first began in 1907. The original ball was made of iron and wood; the current ball is made of Waterford Crystal, weighs 1,070 pounds, and is six feet in diameter.

A traditional southern New Year's dish is Hoppin' John—black eyed peas and ham hocks. An old saying goes, "Eat peas on New Year's day to have plenty of everything the rest of the year."

Another American tradition is the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.

Resolutions: It is believed that the Babylonians were the first to make New Year's resolutions, and people all over the world have been breaking them ever since. The early Christians believed the first day of the New Year should be spent reflecting on past mistakes and resolving to improve oneself in the New Year.

Noisemaking and fireworks on New Year's eve is believed to have originated in ancient times, when noise and fire were thought to dispel evil spirits and bring good luck.

The most commonly sung song for English-speakers on New Year's Eve, "Auld Lang Syne". The song asks whether old friends and times will be forgotten and promises to remember people of the past with fondness.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2017!


DECEMBER 2016

If my figures are correct as I am writing today, it has been 103 days since we have had any measurable rain in our area. It is so dry. I have been amazed how lately when our dogs, Rusty and Alvin, are playing in the yard that they kick up so much dust that they are literally hidden by it. It has been so bad a few times that I have to call to them so they could follow my voice and not get lost in the dust cloud as they made their way back from the far side of the driveway. But, our case is not all that unusual. From what I hear there are many affected by this dry, dry, weather. I have heard so many comments and stories from people directly affected by our present unfavorable meteorological circumstances. For instance, I have heard from a lot of fishermen who are seeing more and more catfish with canteens strapped to their backs. I feel sorry for them poor lil’ ole catfish. I have also heard from a few dairymen that say that the lack of moisture is having an adverse effect on their cows. Several of them have told me how many of their prize milkers have begun to give powdered milk, and if not powdered milk at least the evaporated kind. There are also reports of the adversity that the ducks in this area are facing. It seems that many are now beginning to hatch wearing little duck flip-flops because there is not enough water for them to learn to swim and they have to walk everywhere they go. This is just rumor, and I certainly can’t vouch for this phenomenon because I haven’t seen it with my own two eyes, but another thing I have heard is that some folks have been having trouble walking their dogs down at Peeks Park lately. They claim it is because the trees are so dry that they have begun whistling for the dogs to come over and mark them just so they can get a little drink. I have hope, though. Our county leaders have decided that maybe they can ease the drought conditions a little by a plan conceived at the last commissioners meeting. They have decided to spend the money to hold a couple of water pistol buy-back days. The commissioners want everyone to know that these will definitely be a "don’t ask, don’t tell" event so anyone who brings a water pistol in will not be liable for its origins or how it may have been used in the past. Maybe their plan will bring enough relief to the local aquifer that we can get by until the rains come again.

The outside is not the only place that we can find dry conditions. Sometimes when we look inside, at our spiritual lives, they can seem a little dry, too. This time of the year is an opportunity to find refreshment for our souls, though. No, not just in the days of Christmas, but in this season of Advent that will lead us up to Christmas. For Christian people in our tradition Advent is a time when again we are called to settle our hearts and minds on the idea the Jesus is coming again. Not as a babe in a manger, but this time when He comes it will be the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Yes, the next few weeks are going to be a little busy, and there will be a lot going on. But, along with the gifts that we give to others this time of the year, let's give a gift to ourselves. Last week we began our Advent sermons series with the idea that we must prepare because we do not know what day our Lord might come. This week we will hear the words of John the Baptist as he calls his world and ours to repentance. The third week we will hear from the Scriptures about how we can rely on God’s faithfulness to live into and then out of any situation that we face in life. In week four we will be making our turn toward Bethlehem and be reminded that anything is possible with God. And then on Christmas morning we will gather to sing Joy to the World our Savior reigns. I hope that you will plan to be with us each Sunday of this precious season as we gather for worship to see what God is doing in our lives and in our world.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen

 


NOVEMBER 2016

 

It is almost over. Hallelujah!

As I am writing this morning, we have about that two weeks before our country will finally elect a new president. I don’t think I have ever been more anxious and more ready for anything to end than I am this election. The past months have tested our nation and at times our faith in humanity. The accusations, the bickering, the bad behavior on both sides and the scandals covered by the media have become the highlight of the every hour news programs. Rather than, the disgrace they once would have been. I for one am glad there will not be another presidential debate in this election cycle. Because I am not sure that I earn enough money to purchase the needed quantity of antacids to make it through another ninety minutes of retorts, interruptions, and general disdain the candidates and moderators seem to have for one another.

The behavior of these public personalities has raised a question in my mind in the past few days, though. It concerns our behavior and our attitudes when all of this is finally over. I am sure that you have noticed that the presidential candidates and their pundits have not been the only ones acting out lately. There have been many who have taken to Facebook and other social media platforms to share their opinions, the supposed dirt they have found on the demon candidate on the other side, and sometimes even their lack of respect for those who hold views different than their own.

This brings me to us and our treatment of one another. How do you think we will view one another and get along with each other when this election is finally over? Pause to ponder that question for a moment. How do you think that we will look at one another and treat one another when this election is finally over?

I am sure that you an d I haven’t. But, I wonder how many folks have already crossed a line that can’t be uncrossed with family or friends? How many have said things unknowingly that severed close ties with people that used to make them smile or that they called upon when their day, or their week, or their lives, weren’t going well? Maybe it is just me. But, I don’t believe the liberation that so many have found in social media and our “just sayin’” moments have drawn us closer to the people around us or have enhanced our Christian witness. Instead, I think it tends to tear down far more than it strengthens.

When the Bible spoke of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and even our “just sayin’” moments it was pretty clear. It reminds us to use our words and our witness carefully. As Jesus spoke of the fruit of a tree and the fruit of our lives in Matthew 12, He said that good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit and that the attitudes and thoughts a person gives their hearts and minds to will surely overflow from their mouths. The writer of Proverbs said in Proverbs 18 that our words have the power of life and death in our relationships and those who we have influence over are built-up or torn down by what we say. James reminds us in chapter 3 to be careful with our words because they are so easy to misuse, and sometimes so quickly cause irreparable harm.

There are other places where the Bible informs us concerning the use of our words in our world and our relationships. The words that speak to me the most and that I try to keep in mind are a word of encouragement found in the New Testament Epistles.

Ephesians 4:29 says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others u p

according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen ” (NIV). Proverbs 25:11 goes a little further in helping us see what should our goal be when it says, “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (NKJV).

The election will be over in just a few short days. Let’s not let our st rong feelings about it today ruin friendships that we would otherwise enjoy a lifetime.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


 

OCTOBER 2016

The first of the presidential debates is over. And honestly, I don’t have a much clearer understanding of what the candidates think this election is about than I did before I spent 90 minutes watching Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump glare and spit at one another Monday night. Some say their behavior and the expressions of angst and agitation on their faces proved that both of these candidates are passionate. My opinion is that is not passion. Rather, such behavior is just plain snarky and rude. It may sound a bit shallow of me. But one of the things that I would like to see in our next president is the look of a statesperson and someone I wouldn’t be afraid might embarrass our nation when they are invited to visit a foreign country or when they must attend to United States business in a foreign land.

The thing that has continued to amaze me as I think about these two candidates and the election, is there are Christian people who support each candidate and who say that theirs is the only choice a true Christian can choose. I have to admit I am a little baffled by that statement.

Not long ago Jerry Fawell Jr. enthusiastically endorsed Donald Trump proclaiming Mr. Trump’s motives are pure, as he has nothing to gain by running for office. Yet, Mr. Trump has told reporters that he is not so sure about asking for forgiveness as he said that he seldom feels as though he needs to ask for forgiveness. With the emphasis of the Christian faith being that Christians are “bought with a price” and Jesus paid our sin debt at the cross it seems that Mr. Trump at least lacks clarity when it comes to practicing the faith.

Mrs. Clinton’s story is much the same. While she speaks more about her faith and can articulate some tenants of the Christian faith with greater clarity than Mr. Trump, some people who have witnessed the more private parts of her daily life speak of her temper and her use of language that she sure didn’t learn in Sunday school.

The point that I am trying to make is that if the truth is being told about the candidates, then it is hard to say that either is the only candidate true Christians can vote for, or that one candidate is more Christian than the other, or that one is speaking the truth of Christ while the other is not. The evidence is just not there.

So, who should you vote for you might ask? I don’t know. As for me, I am going to vote for the person who I think can best lead our country for the next four years. And as I do, I am going to pray for that person and our nation, that somehow through our next president that God can make some much needed changes in our government. Along with the prayers for our country and its leaders I am also going to pray and do my best not to ruin my Christian witness or break fellowship with any of my church mates or friends who may hold opinions different than my own. Because, no matter who wins on November 8th we are going to continue to live in this world, and even live together, until God calls us home.

Folks the best advice that I can give for the next few weeks I borrow from 1 Timothy 2 verses 1-3. “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior....” Lord, we ask that this might be so. In the matchless name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


SEPTEMBER 2016

Matthew 4:18-22 (New King James Version)

And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee, their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.

I have been to the place where this scene plays out. It is a beach along the Sea of Galilee. There is now a sidewalk that meanders under some shady hardwoods down from the parking area, past a church that was built on the site, then out onto a beach that is covered by smooth flat stones. It is a beautiful place, one where you might want to take off your shoes and wade a few minutes, or maybe picnic under the nearby trees and enjoy the afternoon breeze.

The person who was leading our tour told us that this would have been a place where the boats were kept, nets were mended, and the fisherman would have launched out for their daily fishing trips. If you are a fisherman or a person who has watched as someone else has prepared to go fishing, you know that getting ready to fish is often time consuming and a lot of work. Because lines, and nets, if you are using them, have to be straightened. Paddles and life jackets have to be put on board. The boat then has to be arranged, so that you can walk back safely, without tripping over anything. After the boat is rigged, the fishing poles have to have line and hooks, bait and ice then must be bought and put in their place. And it seems there are many other tasks that always take a little longer than you think that they should, as you get ready to go fishing. The fishing part is usually fun and relaxing, but the preparation can be hard work.

Usually when we think about the story of Jesus calling fishermen to be disciples the words that stand out to us are Jesus saying, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The idea that I have heard preached, and have preached myself, is that Jesus calls His disciples, and us, to be fishers of people. That is to witnesses to our faith in the world around us. As I have pondered this scene lately it has dawned on me, though, fishing not only means baiting a hook and putting it in the water. But, it also means that you have to do all the hard work before you go so that the trip is even possible and hopefully productive.

When Jesus called the disciples to fish for people, He did not have them form a huddle like a football quarterback does when he is calling a play. He did not say now Peter you go here. Andrew, you go here. James, you go over there, and I’ll go here, and we will meet back at 7:30 so you can tell me how you did. No, we usually miss a very important step in the process. We take for granted the part of the story where Jesus called the disciples, and they followed him, agreeing to be discipled, or to be learners in the faith. On the day that Jesus called those first men, he did not send them out. But, He began to disciple them and train them for the task. And for the next three years He worked with them so that they could not only fish for people, but so they could train others to fish for people, as well.

In our world today we move so fast, and we want everything right now. So, often, we try to skip over the hard work of getting ready. But that is not the way that Jesus grew the disciples, and it is not the way that you and I will become our very best for Jesus and the work that He is calling us to do. I found a great quote this week. It says, "Any great achievement - be it a beautiful building, a winning sports team, or a successful life - must start with a solid foundation. Yet in our society, which is increasingly focused on ‘quick fix’ answers and ‘fast track’ careers, few people have the patience to build a proper foundation, and even fewer people have the skills to convince others to do so.” For our purposes, the author is saying that for our Christian lives to be what God meant for them to be, we have to put in the hard work so that we might be the best disciples that we can be.

Our Bible studies begin in a few weeks. Each of them are studies that will grow you in your faith not just for you, but for the world around you. You can find more information in Sunday’s bulletin, or you can call Debbie at the church, and she will help you out. May God bless you as you prepare to become a fisher of people.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


AUGUST 2016

Leaders

If I were to ask you to divide the world into two categories and to name those categories, the responses I would likely get would be something like: the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor, leaders and followers, the weak and the strong, good and bad, sinners and saints, and so on and so forth. Most likely it has always been that way. And, no doubt, as far back as this line of thinking goes there has also been the struggle to see who would hold the positions of power and authority, and who would hold the lesser places. Usually we do not think of these ideas though the eyes of faith, but we should.

There is much talk about, and I would image as much desire to hold the positions of power and authority as there ever has been. I mean, who really wants to be an underling? Isn’t there much more prestige in being the one making the rules, compared to the one who has to follow them? No doubt through the avenues of education, strategy, networking, and hard work many set a course to maneuver their way to the top. After all that is the American way and the American dream isn’t it? To be the one who leads and directs others, and not be one of the ones following behind.

Such a lifestyle and life might be acceptable in the world in which we live. But, is it Biblical, is it godly, more than that, is such a life God-honoring? While one can have a principled and determined approach to get ahead in the world, there is one thing that we must add if we are going to be people who lead in the way of the Kingdom of God. That is that we begin our journey from the place of truly becoming a servant, first. Yes, that is right, to lead and live up to our potential in the Kingdom of God we begin as servants of God and servants of those that God loves.

A passage of Scripture from the Gospel of Matthew came to mind as I was thinking about God-honoring leadership in the Kingdom of God. When Jesus was teaching about leadership and holding the places of authority in chapter 20, He had this to say, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The instructions that Jesus gives for becoming a leader in the Kingdom of God are encapsulated in one simple and straightforward strategy; that being set self aside and serve others. These words of Jesus may not sound exciting and they may not move our hearts to joy. But, it is clear, that to act and live that way moves the heart of God. When we begin to think that way, and examine our lives and actions by those standards, then we begin to understand our motives for wanting to be a leader. They do so by prompting us to begin to ask good self-examining questions such as: Do we want to lead so that we can have authority and prestige? Or, is our desire to lead prompted by our desire to help God change our world?

They also help us begin to look at the actions of our daily lives in a new way. To be a Christian who leads does not necessarily mean that we are assured a position in charge of some organization, or the seat of the chairperson of a committee in the Church. Instead it means that we live and lead in such a way that hearts and minds are transformed, which helps us transform the lives of others, and helps God transform our part of the world. When we see ourselves serving others because that is simply a part of who we are, then and only then, are we ready to lead as Jesus has called us to lead.

Peace and Blessings,
Allen


JULY 2016

Like many of you I have a Facebook account. It seems almost everyone does these days. I am not the best of the Facebook crowd I suppose. As I am not often one to post, comment, or offer an opinion. For the most part, I am just a “like” and sometimes “share” person. So if you are looking for an inside track into how my mind works, you will not add much information to your knowledge base by becoming my Facebook friend. Still, I have gotten into the habit of taking a few minutes each day to find out what is going on with family, friends, and to expose myself to the things people are talking about in modern society. Which, brings me to the thing that I wanted to think about with you today.

Not long ago I read an article that someone posted on Facebook about the Bible and how Christians continually violate the laws we find written in our Holy Book. For the most part, the author jumped around the book of Leviticus citing laws found there that Christians do not follow or even seem to acknowledge in our present age. For instance, not being able to touch a football because it’s made of pigskin. Sure enough the Bible does say in Leviticus 11:7-8 that the Israelites were not to touch a pig, dead or alive, nor eat its meat. Besides the loss of a favorite fall pass time, adhering to such words would take the sausage off of our breakfast plates, pork chops off our supper tables, as well as the ribs, and Boston butts off our backyard barbecue and out of our tailgate parties as we prepare for the big game. Perish the thought and bite your tongue!

Another example the author cited from Leviticus was a prohibition against haircuts and beard trims that resulted in rounded hairstyles. Again, the author was able to cite chapter and verse and a prohibition found in chapter Leviticus 19:27. “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” As thinking people we might naturally ask the question were the Jews, and now Christian people, really supposed to live so out-of-step with the world, its customs, and its styles?

That question gives us insight into the reason for all of the seemingly strange laws that we find in the Old Testament, and especially in the book of Leviticus. When we examine the book of Leviticus and its context carefully, what we find is its words and restrictions were given directly to the Israelites precisely when God rescued them following four hundred years of captivity in Egypt. The type of Levitical Law that covers hairstyles, dietary restrictions, the mixing a differing kinds of threads in the same cloth, and guided many other areas of life is called Ceremonial Law, and was given specifically to lead the Israelites through the infancy stage of getting to know God.

On the surface, one thing may not seem to be related to the other. But, the book of Leviticus was actually given as words of instruction in holy living and holy life to the Israelites. It was meant to help the Israelites understand the moral and virtuous nature of God. At the same time, it was meant to teach the Israelites that as God’s people they were called to live separate and distinct lives from the peoples around them.

While the Israelites had been under the rule of the Egyptians they had eaten Egyptian foods, they had worn hand-me-down Egyptian clothing, and they had witnesses and probably practiced the Egyptian holidays and festivals. During those four hundred years of captivity, the Israelites had become Egyptianized. In other words, they had been greatly influenced by Egyptian culture and values; a lifestyle that did not lead them toward God, rather away. A recurring admonition in the book of Leviticus counseled and encouraged the people of Israel to be holy because God is holy and God’s people are called to walk in God’s footsteps and not to follow the pattern of the world. Therefore, the Levitical Law was not given as a be-all-and-end-all pattern of life in order to follow God. Rather, it was given as a training wheels kind of faith for the people of God to learn what God is like and the way they should live their lives in order to be in relationship with Him.

So, what does this have to do with Facebook and the article that I read? Simply the fact that it was the author’s agenda to minimize the Bible and Christian teaching by emphasizing a part of the Scriptures Christians seldom visits and hardly understand. He wanted to misrepresent and highlight portions of Scripture that emphasize Ceremonial Law, which was never meant to guide our present age. His intention was to discredit Christianity and feed the world’s desire to be unfettered by God and not responsible to live in a way other than the one that serves its selfish desires.

The Christian faith and its Scriptures have stood the test of time for more than two thousand years, though. God’s Word to us is not irrelevant or out of date. It has not been proved a relic from the past. It is as powerful and mighty as it has ever been. It is still meant to guide us in our relationship with God. But, it is up to us to never let the world rob us of the Bible’s power to inform our lives for the reason that we are too lazy to study, or because we simply take some stranger at their word due to some high sounding argument they have constructed. The Bible has been and is still given, as God’s Word and God’s gift to us, even the chapters and verses that we sometimes find hard to understand.

 


JUNE 2016

Well, it is June 2016. In just a few days we will mark the end of our third year together, and the beginning of our fourth. My, my, how times flies when you are having fun. Let me begin by saying, thank you for all of your hard work and generosity. In the church we so often take people for granted and do not say thank you, if your gift or your hard work has been over looked please hear “thank you” from Kresge UMC and all who serve and lead in this place. No great things ever happen without good people and God’s people giving their best.

Our coming year together should cause us to be intentional about the things that come next. Last year we were able to start and maintain small adult discipleship groups in the fall of the year and they seemed to have an impact and be well received by all who participated. This fall I would like to see us begin those groups again, except this time with the goal of carrying them into the spring of 2017. If you feel the call to lead a discipleship group or want to be a member of one please let me know so we can begin to think about days of the week, times, and materials. I have already had someone express interest in leading the new Disciple Bible Study Fast Track format. So there’s one idea, do we have others?

Also, if you haven’t noticed lately we are beginning to have children again on Sunday morning, praise God! Some of these are regulars and a part of the church family and some are a part of our Kresge Kids program and come to us through the van ministry. If you can teach or help out in this area please make yourself known to Marian Williams or Lynn Self. We have prayed for kids and God is beginning to answer our prayers. Let us be faithful in the opportunities that God puts before us. Oh, and as an aside. I know sometimes the kids are not as quiet or still as we would like for them to be, and sometimes they have their phones out when we wished they didn’t, but they are here. If they are here then we have the opportunity to sow into their lives and shape them. So if they do something that frustrates you or rubs you the wrong way, take a second or two and look at the big picture before you speak or act, and then act in a way that teaches them and honors God. If they feel welcomed in this place maybe they will hear the voice of God, and we have the opportunity to be a part of that in their lives.

Lastly, as you have noticed we have gained a few new members over the last year. Again, praise God! This year let’s keep looking for ways to add people to this family and this congregation. Not just so that we can be greater in numbers, but also so we can make a greater impact for the Kingdom of God in Cedartown and Cave Spring. Our mission statement (I hope you have heard and repeated it so much that you can say it in your sleep) is: Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. I mentioned in the above paragraph that we are having new children in church now; let’s also look for new adults. We are a good church and a good place to be to find salvation and the hope of Christ. We are also a good place for people your age to find fellowship, friendship, and support. There is not a one of us who does not know at least one person that needs a church home like Kresge. Look around you, pray and invite, help someone in your circle of friends and acquaintances find their way to our church. Ask, invite, and trust God to do the rest, it is as simple as that.

Folks I have learned a lot since becoming your pastor, and I thank God for those opportunities. I think we have come a long way in the last three years, let’s make as much as we can of the year to come.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


MAY 2016

As I write this afternoon, I am tired. Even with today being only Wednesday, it has already been a very full week. And honestly, as I sit and collect my thoughts, I am beginning to look for ways to make some room for me, or at least lessen the weight of my schedule, for the rest of the week. No doubt, we all have weeks and feelings like these from time to time, probably more often than not. It seems the world around us always has so many things for us to do that it would not be possible for us to finish them all, even if we could give up each night’s sleep to do them.

In times like these it is tempting to “slap a little paint on it and let it go,” which is railroad slang for do as little as you can and send it on down the line. Looking at things that way bothers me, though. It sounds as if I don’t care or that I am somehow not invested or engaged in things important to my family, my Church or even me. Somewhere in the background I can also hear the words of Galatians 6: “Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9, KJV).

What do we do? Is there a solution? I think the real question is, will life for us be a chore or a choice? That is a great question, but what is the answer? The answer is that we learn to say “no” – not in a mean of nasty way, or simply as a way of lightening our load. But we learn to say “no” in a way that empowers us to give a true and excited “yes” to the things that we allow to take the minutes, hours and days of our lives. A “yes” that allows us to be fully present in mind, body and soul. A “yes” with the physical, mental, and spiritual energy to finish well the things we believe God calls us to choose. And above all, a “yes” that allows us to make the work of our hands and the work of our hearts an offering that brings glory to God.

Peace and Blessing

Allen


APRIL 2016

Well Easter is finally over and it is time for the “Holy Week Hangover.” That is usually the idea in the minds of preachers and folks who lead and plan worship experiences. On the afternoon of, or the day after Easter Sunday, we usually just collapse and say, “Whew, we made it”. After a few hours or the next day, we begin to take the special things that we use to draw us and our congregations closer to the cross, to the Suffering Servant, and to the Sacrifice of Christ, and we put them in a box or in a file on our desktops until we begin to prepare for Ash Wednesday next year. You probably noticed it, but things can be so compressed and so taxing during the season of Lent as we prepare ourselves for Easter. If we are not careful we can see it as a relief when Easter finally comes and goes, and we can get back to normal.

Easter Sunday should not be a signpost that calls us back to normal, though. It should be a time and a place in our spiritual lives that asks us what we have learned about God and about ourselves during these past 40 or so days. It should be a time of excitement when we see our progress and a time when we make plans to continue to focus on the things that still work to divide us from one another and separate us from the presence of God.

During the Lenten season, there were a couple of things that I saw that I intend to continue to make a bigger part of my life before God. The first was a book called SoundTrack, a daily devotional which uses a Psalm set to music as its base, and then adds a reflection or question that helps to develop a Christian lens for facing life that day. I found SoundTrack and the Psalms very helpful as they reminded me that the Scriptures give voice to my life in moments of joy, sadness, disappointments, tension, and praise. What this says to me and reminds me of is that God understands what I face in life and is able to comfort and guide me if I will slow myself enough to listen.

The second thing that I will take with me from this Lenten season is a new understanding of the relationship between sin and Christ’s suffering. I have read the crucifixion accounts many times over, as well as Isaiah 53’s Suffering Servant chapter. But something made the connection between my sin and Christ’s suffering more real this year. I commented in the Thursday night Bible study that though I do not own a Crucifix, I thought that the symbolism that it relays would be beneficial to keep in mind year round. In other faith traditions, the Crucifix is a reminder that suffering for sin was a major part of what Jesus came to do in this world. And though that is a foundational doctrine of our Methodist/Protestant faith, it is sometimes hard for us to not lose that truth when the cross is empty and we interpret it simply as a sign of God’s love for us. In the coming days I want to hold more tightly the awareness that my sin caused the suffering and death of Jesus and not allow this truth to drift to the back of my mind until next Lent 2017. This I hope will help me as I pursue holiness of heart and mind.

I guess in those words is my message and challenge for the days after Easter: To not lose all that you and me have gained in the Lenten season this year, but to take hold of it that we might create new practices and new thinking that will draw you and me closer to God.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


MARCH 2016

Who’s still focused on this season of Lent? I am and I hope that you are. As I write today, it is the 17 th day of our 40-day journey. I have to confess that I am not quite as excited about it as I was on day 1. No, I haven’t given up on Lent and I do still want to know God in a deeper way. But, day after day of trying to be especially intensely genuinely profoundly focused, reminds us that remaining alert and attentive to the things of God for the long haul is quite difficult and that every day is not fun and games. That is life though, isn’t it? With the dawning of each new morning comes a new challenge, a new hope, a new anxiety, or maybe the same old anxieties that we have known for a long will come again, packaged in a new way.

One of the things that we learn about life is that not every day ends in victory. This week, I was thinking of Jesus as He was challenged and tempted in the Judean wilderness at the beginning of His ministry. After a few days the doldrums of the wilderness surely had to set in. The loneliness, and the moments (maybe hours or days) of depression were soon found to be unfriendly, yet relentless. Yes, the wilderness might have been an interesting place in the beginning, after all the challenge was new. But after the first week, and then the second, and then the third, things were not as fresh and new as they were on day one. Maybe Jesus began to wish that the birds would learn a new song. Maybe He began to wonder which desert lizard was the fastest? Maybe He wondered when the tempting would be over? Maybe He began to wonder what it was all about, and if at the end any good would be found as a result of His trouble.

The New American Standard Bible says of Jesus’ time in the wilderness, “And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry” (Mt. 4:2). Did you catch that? Jesus “fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry?” I know me, and it would not have taken forty days and nights for me to become hungry. Sometimes, if I am not careful, I catch myself with something headed to my mouth every forty minutes, much less forty days. And do not worry; I am not about to suggest that you and I fast for the remaining days of Lent. But, what I am calling for is for us to refocus. Jesus, to fast for the forty days an forty nights, had to remain focused and steadfast in His pursuit. He had to have more on His mind that the song of the birds or the how many days were left till it was over. To endure to the end, Jesus had to embrace the big picture. Jesus had to say to Himself moment-by-moment and day-by-day, “I will endure and defeat this temptation in the here and now.”

That is our call for the next 23 days; that we stay the course, that we refocus our hearts and our minds on knowing more deeply the God that we serve. We can make it from here. In the power of the Holy Spirit we can make it. And as these days of Lent unfold we can come to know our God more deeply that we ever have before

Peace and Blessings,

Allen

 


FEBRUARY 2016

It's beginning to look a lot like Len..ent

Ev'rywhere you go;

Take a look in the five-and-ten, ashes from end to end

With burlap and sack cloth all around............

It just doesn’t work does it? And, I am coming to find there are really no secular or Christian songs that can be used to put us in the mood and the right frame of heart for Lent. Used to be, Lent culminating in Easter, was the bees knees of the Christian Holy times. The days before the all night sales, big box stores, and “winning the holidays” became a thing. Now days, everybody knows about and goes wild over Christmas and the birthday of Jesus. But, not so much as the calendar pushes us to Lent. I guess there might be a more genuine interest in Lent and a more intense season of repentance in our lives if Ash Wednesday was closer to the delivery of Christmas spending credit card statements, than it is now. Regardless of the culture or the state of the present age, Lent is right around the corner, though, and we need it as we prepare our hearts and lives for the Christ of Easter.

Lent in a recognizable form began to be observed by the early Church around AD 325 using a forty-day fast as its central practice. This, of course, was a pattern adopted from Scripture and the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by the devil and denying His mortal desires. Days and practices varied for another two hundred and fifty years or so, until the model we use today became the custom.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Lenten Season with the Saturday before Easter being the last. In the early church the days of Lent were used for teaching and instructing new converts as they prepared for their baptism that occurred on the last day of Lent. Later the Lenten season also became a time when those who had fallen away from the faith by committing serious sins repented and were reclaimed so they might again know the privileges that each Christian receives in baptism. Sometimes there is a little confusion concerning the days of Lent because there is more than forty if counted on the calendar. But the Lenten count does not include the Sundays, because all Sundays are considered mini-Easters, with each week pointing us to the gospel and the promise of our own resurrection. This year Ash Wednesday will be February 10th with our service time set for 6:30pm. I hope that you will plan to be with us that night as we begin to seriously examine our lives.

Someone has described Lent as a time when we get a second chance in the beginning of the year to break the resolutions that we have made to change our lives. But I think a better description would be that Lent is a time when we climb the spiritual mountains in our lives: each step a challenge, loose rocks sometimes causing us to slip, moments of elations when we have a glimpse of victory; when facing our foes, and of course the valleys that come when we realize that we have again failed. Lent, though, is really not about the challenge or the victory; it is more about the journey. It is about relying on God to show you something new about you and something new about Him. I want to invite you this year to give up that thing that you want or need to give up. But, don’t let that thing be the goal or the prize. Instead, let the journey, and the struggle, and the faithfulness of God be the prize that Lent calls us to. Today, while there is still time to prepare, begin to pray, find a special devotional or reading guide, and make your preparation to spend the best forty days with God that you ever have. Though the path maybe difficult, and you may find failure along the way, the God that you find at the end will be worth every minute, hour, and day of this season of Lent.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


JANUARY 2016

“An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he's in. (A true inventor is one) who treats his failures simply as practice shots.” (Charles F. Kittering)

I was reading an article the other day, which talked about failed inventions. Did you know that people have invented and tried to market things like scrambled eggs on a stick, toaster french fries, and candle/forks for birthday cake convenience? And, there were other inventions even crazier than these. For instance the baby dust mop, a little one piece suit with dust mop tentacles sown on so that as the baby crawled around on the floor it would not only have fun, but also pick up dust at the same time; (smiling infant not included). In the baby department there was another invention that caught my eye, the motorized baby stroller. This invention not only propelled the swaddled child at a semi-high rate of speed, but had a little pull behind cart that mom or dad could stand on to ride and steer. There was also Smell-o-vision, a product designed to enable moviegoers to smell the scenes of a movie while they watched them on the big screen. I wonder what the latest Star Wars movie would have smelled like if this product had made it into production?

The reason these crazy inventions came to mind is that I have had failure and success on my mind as we begin this new year. Everyone is a fan of success, everyone ooohs and aaahs over it. When our plans turn out and we succeed, there is plenty of congratulations and backslapping to go around. Never do you see someone frown at success, unless they have the heart of Jonah. On the other end of the scale, failure is another matter entirely. Where success is inspirational, failure is a spirit killer. Where success brings blue skies, failure brings dark clouds. Where success brings cheers, failure brings embarrassed uneasiness. One thing is for sure though, success seldom comes without failure, and usually we are heavier on the failure side than we are on the side of success. Stumbles and missteps abound. But we have to keep trying, not only in the physical world, but in the spiritual world as well.

The Apostle Paul says something that resonates with me in Philippians 3 as he speaks of his own Christian walk and his pursuit of Christ. Here are his words:

12  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  13  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  14  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.(NIV) I, like Paul, find myself not what I hope to be as a Christian, as a follower of Christ, as a disciple and learner, or as a witness to my faith. Yet at the same time I find, in Christ, I do have that potential. And, you do too. Paul’s words become a renewed call in the New Year to really know God on a deeper level than ever before, and a louder call still, to try again when we have a setback or we fail.

I want to let you in on a little secret. Everyone that has ever attempted to know the Bible better, pray more, or more closely follow the Savior has failed on some level and had to resolve to start again. Yes, everyone from your dear sweet Sunday School teacher to your sage old grandpa. That thought should not depress us though. Rather it should inspire, as we too struggle against the things that hinder us and the sin that so easily entangles, that we might run the race that is marked out for us. Let us not be afraid or discouraged by our failures. But may we be renewed in the understanding that it is in the struggle that we are drawn closer to God.

Thomas Edison held one thousand ninety-three patents for his many different inventions. He is remembered most for the electric light bulb, the phonograph and motion picture camera. But did you also know that he invented the concrete piano, concrete living room furniture, and even a concrete bed? You’ve never heard of them? Great success never comes without failure. Press on toward the goal.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen

 


DECEMBER 2015

I was thinking of a song this week. It is one that is very well known and easy to recognize. Here is the first verse:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The problem with this famous hymn is that it is as hard to sing, as it is easy to recognize. I have on more than one first Sunday of Advent chosen it as the opening hymn of the season. It has the right words. It sets the course and the direction that we need to point ourselves towards at this time in the Christian year. It does all that a worship planner could ask of a hymn. But, did I mention that it was hard to sing? So hard. Really hard. Oh when will it ever end, hard. Difficult, challenging, strenuous, grueling... You get the idea, the song is really hard to sing.

I think that is the way that it is with the season of Advent though, especially in the world in which we live. The one where Halloween costumes, Thanksgiving turkeys, and Santa Clauses have been smashed together to create one long season with no real meaning, change, or excitement. They are simply the icons of a four-month blur in our consumer driven culture. If we are not careful in our preparations, the season of Advent that leads us to Christmas can also become a part of this blur. And, we can find ourselves just trying to hang on, simply hoping for the end and longing for our lives to get back to normal.

But there is another choice, a better choice. That is that we use the season of Advent for its intended purpose and plan for our best year yet with the Savior. This year instead of letting the Christmas shopping season drive us. Let’s make a decision to ask the Season of Advent to lead us; to lead us to the Savior and the place that our hearts long to be. The word Advent comes from the Latin verb ad venire, which means to come toward, to draw near, to approach. During Advent, we remember and celebrate God's drawing near to us in Jesus Christ. We reflect on the words of the prophets who proclaimed, the hymn of the angels who announced, the words of John the Baptist who declared, that God had come in the flesh. That God had come to walk among His most precious creation, men and women whose hearts are capable of love.

It was a night, a glorious night when the shepherds heard the news. It was an exciting time when the Magi set off on their journey. It was a time of fulfillment when Simeon and Anna saw the Savior that they had prayed for and waited so long to see. The time in which we live is all of these and much, much, more, as we wait not for a babe, but for a King. The Advent path that we walk celebrates Jesus at His first coming. But moreover, it points us to the second coming, the time in history when we finally reach the end of the hymn.

O come, desire of nations bind
in one the hearts of all mankind.
O bid our sad divisions cease
and be Yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Praying for your best Advent yet,

Allen

 


NOVEMBER 2015

Did you know that as of Sunday November the 1st that we will be 305 days into the year 2015? That means that when the sun sets next Sunday, we will have used up 83.5% of the days available in a normal calendar year. To make this number a little more real, and maybe a little frightening, we have, as of November 1, a scant 53 shopping days left until Christmas. It is amazing how quickly the days pass and move from being a part of our future to a part of our past.

I have been thinking the past couple of days about my life, and myself, and wondering where the year has gone. I have tried to figure out where the minutes and days, and now looking back, where the months have gone. What happened to the New Year’s resolutions that I made what seems to be just a day or two ago? What happened to all of the big plans I made? What happened to the new person that I was going to become in 2015? I bet if I looked really hard I could still find the little sheet of paper where I wrote those very important resolutions and goals what seems to be just days ago. Time certainly has a way of slipping away and becoming a part of our past. And the funny part about it is time just keeps on moving on, unfettered and uncontrolled by anything in the universe.

The Apostle Paul has a word or maybe a warning for us as the days pass by and little seems to be accomplished. He says, “ 15  So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.  16  Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.  17  Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. (Ephesians 5:15-17) If I were helping Paul communicate this message to a modern audience, I would say be careful how you spend your life. Be careful what you do with the minutes, hours, and days as you live. Because it is so easy to let time slip by and there be little or nothing to show for it, at least as far as the Kingdom of God and the cause of Jesus Christ are concerned.

Paul’s concern for the people at Ephesus was that they should not be fooled by the idea that time is a commodity to be spent without thinking or that what we spend our lives on is not important. Instead I think that I hear him saying that more than anything; God truly does have a higher purpose for the moments that so often slip through our fingers. That God has a way to use us today where we are as witnesses, encouragers, prayer warriors, teachers, leaders, and a host of other holy occupations. So that no matter how deep we are into whatever year it is, we can say to God, “Lord this is how I have spent the time that You have given me, building up your Kingdom.”

Let us be people who redeem the time that God gives us. Because as I used to hear a popular radio personality say, “have a good and Godly day, because of what value is a good day if it is not also a Godly day.”

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


OCTOBER 2015

As I begin to write, I am not exactly sure what I should say. But, I am sure that I need to say something. Like you, the name, and the person, Kelly Gissendaner has been on my mind for the last few days. Honestly, I do not know how to feel. I have seen and read many of the posts on Twitter and Face book from clergy and Christian leaders. I have watched the news coverage. A time or two I have caught the brief debates between different pundits, usually both sides making brilliant arguments yet still not helping me make-up my mind or changing the ultimate outcome. There has been something about this person and her situation that could not be resolved in me.

Reading all of the reports, there is no doubt that Kelly Gissendaner was guilty of plotting with and encouraging her then boyfriend, Gregory Owen, to kidnap and kill her husband, Doug Gissendaner, in 1997. In the beginning she denied her part in that heinous act. But, one of her final statements before her execution was to Doug Gissendaner’s family, “I am so sorry, so sorry that an amazing man lost his life because of me. If I could take it back, I would.” Still with all of the evidence against her and no lingering doubts remaining concerning her guilt, it seemed thousands came along side of Kelly Gissendaner to plead for mercy and that her life might be spared.

On the other hand, from all accounts, the woman that was executed at 12:21 am on September 30 th was not the same person she had been 18 years before. Testimonies from clergy, seminary professors, and even police officers portrayed Kelly Gissendaner as a person who had been changed from the innermost places of the heart, out. Over the years she had been changed and was being changed by the power of the living Christ who lived in her, even as she lived her life in a prison cell.

I guess the reason that I am not sure what to say about all of this is that I am caught in between. In between my understanding of the absolute necessity of legal systems to maintain civilized societies by assuring fair trials, advocacy, justice for victims when called for, and my understanding of the hope of redemption found only in our Savior Jesus Christ.

At this point I would love to be able to write “well Jesus said.....” or “the Apostle Paul writes....” and give you and me an answer that we could tuck in our shirt pocket or purse and walk comfortably away. But, I can’t. I also cannot say that our legal system got this one wrong. As I know that the decision that was before judges and the Board of Pardons and Paroles was about more than a single person and a single case. At the same time, I also know that I prayed that somehow a life that had surrendered itself to be redeemed would be spared.

The world in which we live as Christian people is not a balance of one thing against another. It is not a world that often affords easy answers or quick fixes. The best and most that we can say is that we are a people who live in the presence of a wonderful and just God that is even presently working all things together for good for those who are called according to His purposes and are freely being conformed to the image of His Son and our Savior.

As I began to write it was not with the intention of writing the ballad of Kelly Gissendaner. Nor was it to defend or berate our legal system or due process. It was simply to help me process my understandings and feelings about this event with my God, so that my faith might be deepened and broadened. I hope these words somehow help you do the same.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


SEPTEMBER 2015

You Matter – “Thank You”

Sometime we get the idea that what we do and the people that we are, are not very noteworthy; that even when we give every task our very best work, our efforts can are inconsequential. It is easy in the age in which we live to be swept along by the strong current of a world full of activity and not see how what we do truly makes a difference. But, what if everyone who felt that way simply stopped what they are doing today? What if all people, especially God’s people who sometimes feel that way simply stopped doing what they do this afternoon? What would be left undone? What wheels would stop turning? Who would be hungry? Who would be left without an encouraging phone call? Who would not receive a card saying they are missed? Who would not receive________? Well you get the idea, right? It is the little and sometimes not-so-little things that we do that make up the whole. It is the acts of kindness and work behind the scenes that often go unnoticed; yet each one makes a huge difference. Simply said, it is the things that seem unimportant that makes life happen.

I want to thank all of you for what you do. Just a couple of months ago we started a project to make some much needed repairs at the parsonage and many of you gave so that project could be finished. Thank you. Last Wednesday night the Kresge Kids program started again for the fall and the kids were fed and had a great time. That did not happen just because someone snapped their fingers or wiggled their nose, but it took planning, volunteers, and gifts to make that possible. Thank you. Sunday mornings are a great time around here, Sunday school, children’s church, and worship. Those things happen and most of the time it seems like magic. But someone puts together the bulletins and visuals for the worship service. Someone makes the announcements. The hand bells chime the hour and move us toward worship. Cindi leads, the choir sings and Mark plays wonderfully without our ever knowing of the efforts and practice behind the music. The diligence of the Sunday school teachers is on display each week as the classes learn new things about God and how much we are loved. There are van drivers who drive and breakfast makers who make, and a whole host of other folks who give their best; otherwise we would soon see the lack. Thank you for what you do. Even beyond these already mentioned, there are folks who are not often able to be with us but who support Kresge UMC and its mission for Christ in this world with the gifts that they faithfully offer to God each and every month. Thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you all. Sometimes our deeds and our gifts often go unnoticed, and sometimes what we do seems so small.

But folks, nothing offered for the glory of God goes unnoticed in heaven.

In 1 Corinthians 12 the Apostle Paul reminds us of how important the seemingly small things are to the body of Christ. Remember his words if there is a day when you think what you do doesn’t matter.

25-27 The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. (1 Corinthians 12:25-27 – The Message)

Thank you body of Christ, for all that you do!

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


AUGUST 2015

Discipleship Groups

You may have heard me talking lately about Discipleship Groups and our forming them this fall. But, as of yet you are not sure what they are or why we need such a thing. In this article I would like to give a short passage of Scripture for a Biblical foundation and then the explanation behind my thinking. Acts 2:46-47 says, They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—  47  all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

 The verses of Scripture from Acts help us to see the reason the early church grew was because its people grew; not only in numbers, but also in a deeper understanding of God. Out of this understanding they learned to love one another unselfishly, they grew in their knowledge of God together, and as a result not only were their lives changed, but the world around them was changed as well. The first goal of our Discipleship Groups is to make it possible for us as adults to be better disciples of Jesus Christ. To focus particularly on where we are and who God is calling us to become so that we might grow stronger in our faith and surer about sharing what God is doing in our lives with others.

Along with our personal spiritual growth, there are a couple of other benefits that I hope will be realized as a result of our Discipleship Groups. One is that we might invite others to be a part of these groups. Because of the appointed time, Sunday School is by and large an activity that is a church members and regular attendee’s only activity. Because our Discipleship Groups will be held at various times during the week (mornings and evenings) they are open to people who are not a regular part of our church family. With your support and if you are willing to invite people who would benefit from these studies maybe this will be the opening they have been looking for to become a part of a church family.

The other group that I hope will be invited and will receive an invitation because of our Discipleship Groups are people who are on our church rolls, but have drifted away from our/their church family. Sometimes the hardest time to come and be a part of church is when you have gotten out of the habit of church and are looking for a way back in. I hope our Discipleship Groups will provide a way for people who find themselves on the outside looking in a way to return. They do not realize it but they are loved and cared for here. Yet most of the time we are just as much at a loss for words and ways to help them as they are for making their return. Pray that these Discipleship Groups will provide a way for folks who are away from fellowship to return to the Kresge UMC family.

One question that I have been asked and I have pondered is what about some of our younger members and regular attendees and their opportunity for Discipleship Groups? At this point we have a wonderful program on Wednesday evening devoted exclusively to children and young people. Therefore, since that program is already in place and working well, I cannot see where we could improve by simply adding more. I also do not think that we should take a chance on taking away from the Kresge Kids program by adding something that would be in competition with it. By the way if you have some ideas, or better yet some time and energy you can devote to Kresge Kids, you can get with Lynn Self as Kresge Kresge Kids will begin again on August 19 th. I am sure if you want to support this program there is a way for you to do so.

One last question that might be on your mind is what is the Discipleship Groups studying this fall? For the first four weeks all of the groups will be using the study Why Jesus?, a study prepared by David Nasser. This study was chosen to help us in thinking through the difficult questions we face as we consider our Savior. The goal is that as we study and think together that we will better understand not only how Jesus fits into our lives, but also how we deal with the tough questions that our culture sometimes ask about Jesus. After the opening study, each group will have a different topic for the balance of the semester. They are as follows:

Prayer: Does it make a difference? By Phillip Yancey – This will be a Tuesday morning study facilitated by Marion Williams and Linda Lee

    • When You’ve Been Wronged by Erwin Lutzer – This will be a day group facilitated by Micki Gaines and Sandra Dingler
    • The Mayberry Bible Study by Stephen Skelton – This will be an evening group facilitated by Ken Upton and Jeff Masi.
    • Not a Fan – by Kyle Idleman – This will be and evening group facilitated by Marilyn Mobbs and Shannon McGee
    • Luke:The Gospel of Reassurance – by Michael Card – This will be a Monday group and will be facilitated by Mark Hicks and Krista Cooper.
    • A couple of other specifics that you will need to help you with scheduling and your calendar are the start and finish dates. We will begin the week of August 30 th and run for 12 consecutive weeks ending in the week of November 16th.
    • Folks, we have a great church and great potential. The next step that we need to take is to become better disciples of Jesus Christ so that we can help transform our part of the world. I ask you to pray over these groups for their success and for the group that you will join this fall. We owe it to Savior and we owe it to ourselves to be all that God is calling us to be.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


JULY 2015

Servant – Leadership?

I have been thinking about an idea for the last few weeks or so, it is the idea of servant-leadership. Over my years of church life and preparing to be a pastor, I do not know how many times I have heard people speak on this subject and talk about its importance. Yet, no one has ever helped me to really understand how to live out the life of a servant-leader. Consulting with the dictionary to understand the terms offers no help or real insight. Because a leader is defined as; “a person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.” While a servant is defined as one who is; “a devoted and helpful follower or supporter.” It seems that if one were to place these two definitions on a line graph that servant would be one extreme and leader would the other. Quiet the conundrum if we are really called to be both.

Though Jesus never used the term, it is in His life that we find the idea of servant-leader. Jesus was a servant to God when He came into this world; at the same time He was the leader of the disciples. Jesus was a servant to many who were sick, afflicted, and hungry; at the same time He had total control over their infirmities and lack and proved thusly through His ministry. Jesus was servant to both God and humanity at the cross; yet at the same time He was master of His own destiny as He had made it plain in John’s Gospel that, “ No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For, I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again.”   In these roles it is easy to see Jesus as both servant and leader as He was always subservient to God’s ministry to all of humanity; while at the same time He was God-in-the-flesh having power over all situations.

As you ponder those examples you may be thinking that you see and agree with the illustrations, but you are really no closer to applying the idea of servant-leader than you were when you began reading. I agree, because that is where my thinking has been. But, there is at least one place in Scripture that gives us clear insight and instruction that we can follow and apply, though. It is from John’s Gospel chapter 13. In this chapter John invites us into the upper room to see Jesus and the disciples together for the last time. Jesus no doubt held the seat reserved for the leader of the Passover meal. His role in the meal would have been to lead in retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. As the meal progressed, Jesus would have remind and instructed those seated around the table how each item and each movement in the meal is meant to be a reminder of what God had done in the lives of His people; as God moved their nation out of their slavery in Egypt and into His freedom. This role is very important and would have visibly set Jesus in a place above the disciples that evening.

There was another role that was needful and important. Yet, it was not nearly as attractive as the role of the leader. It was the role of washing feet. In the time of Jesus, most people walked in their travels and did so barefoot or in very open sandals. So, one of the things needful when guests would arrive for a meal or a visit was their feet would need to be washed so as to remove the grit and grime from the dirty roads on which they traveled. This was an act of service, and a gift, provided by the host. On His last Passover night with His disciples, Jesus got up from the head of the table, the position of leadership and authority, and He made Himself the servant to all who were gathered. If we use the words found in the Book of Philippians that explain Jesus’ life to describe this moment, we would say, “Though he was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up His divine privileges and He took the humble position of a slave.” ( Philippians 2:6-7, New Living Translation)

With only a cursory reading of John 13 it is not hard for us to see this scene play out. After all leadership and service is what Jesus was all about. But when we look into the scene where Jesus is both master of the table and servant of the gathered, it becomes more difficult. Because, we begin to understand that we are to do the same. Jesus said to His disciples after He has washed their feet this is the way those who follow Him are to act. They are to serve one another, and by extension serve the world. Therefore servant-leadership is to be all that God has called us to be by daily exercising and living out our spiritual gifts, while at the same time not allowing our knowledge, our power, or our position to stand between us and our serving the people that God puts us in contact with each and every day.

There is no doubt there is a servant-leader in each of us. The challenge in being both a servant and a leader is being able to have full confidence in what God has gifted us to do and living it out each day, while at the same time not living as if there are tasks or even people below our station or our position when God directs us to a need that we can meet. Thinking through this idea has helped me to see the places where I can grow in my Christian calling. I hope that it does the same for you.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


JUNE 2015

Who needs Spiritual Growth?

The Christian tract, the Four Spiritual Laws, has as its first statement of spiritual truth “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” As a pastor, and moreover a practicing Christian, I have no doubt that is true. As a matter of fact, if I did not believe that is true, life in the church and life in the community of faith would have very little meaning for me at all. But knowing that God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life means there is more for me to know of God and His will for my life. Because with knowing God also comes experiencing God an experiencing God’s work in our lives which leads us to the idea of spiritual growth, i.e. the ideas of deepening our understanding of who God is and how God works in us and though us.

In thinking about this idea maybe your first thought is can we or should we even try to measure our “spiritual” lives? I believe that if we give any thought to the life of the Apostle Paul that we easily find a pattern of intentional, spiritual, God-honoring growth. Just in the short span of his life that we find in the New Testament, we see Paul move from legalistic law-keeper to a man of grace and mercy. The Apostle Peter makes the move from rough, tuff, fisherman, to preacher and leader in the early church. Therefore, spiritual growth is the norm and pattern if we are going to follow where God is leading us.

So, how do we know that we are growing spiritually and how can we know that are pursuing God’s will for our lives? The first way is by asking the simple question, “Do I really have a relationship with God?” Not, “are you saved?” Not, “do you go to church?” But, “do you really have a relationship with God?” The question of relationship goes much deeper than simply asking God to save us, or our showing up in church most Sundays, or even our willingness to do things that we believe that God would have us do. Relationship has to do with everyday conversation and presence with God. It has to do with our searching the Scriptures for what God is saying to us today, about the situations we find ourselves in. It has to do with the idea of God’s Holy Spirit being able to uniquely lead us through intimate time spent with God. So do you have an everyday, ongoing, deepening relationship with God? If the answer is “no,” then daily is where our relationship with God begins; by not only reading Scriptures and praying, but by asking God to speak to us in those moments.

A second part of spiritual growth is our willingness to submit our lives to God. The simple question that we should ask ourselves often is, “am I submitting in the areas where I know that God has spoken to me?” In the book of Romans the Apostle Paul teaches a concept that is hard for many of us to swallow: submission. We want to be our own people, do our own thing, and let the hair go with the hide. But God calls us to live our lives under His guidance and as a glory to Him. Romans 12:1-2 [NLT] says:

 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you , which is good and pleasing and perfect.

 One of the surest signs of our growing spiritually and in our relationship with God is when we sacrifice our very worldly wants and desires as an act of worship because what we want does not honor God.

When we deny ourselves something that we really want and surely can have, but we say “no” to that thing because our relationship with God is more important, that is a sure sign that we are on the right path.

The final thought that I want to mention concerning measuring our spiritual growth is the idea of contentment. Maybe an easier way to frame this thought is the idea of our accepting the role that God has chosen for us at a particular time in life. In other words are you a servant to God where God has chosen or allowed you to serve right now? In the society in which we live we are taught from a very early age that we work for want we want and we don’t let anyone stand in our way of having it. But in the way that God sometimes allows the world to work, we are not always chosen for the role that we would like to fill at a certain place or time and we do not always get what we believe that we deserve. Yet even in our disappointments we serve God out of our love for God, whether the place that we find ourselves is a stepping-stone or perhaps our final destination. To give all that we have to the work before us, whether it be what we want or what we don’t, says so much about how we are growing into God’s Kingdom that is being planted in our world. In 1 st Timothy 6:6, Paul tells Timothy that true godliness with contentment is great reward, as we bring nothing into this world when we come and we can take nothing when we go. The only reward that is ours eternally comes from the way that we are faithful to God in our circumstances today.

There are many things biding for our attentions today. Things that distract us, things that can change who we are if we are not careful, things that can come between God and us if we are not vigilant and always on our guard. The only way to defend ourselves against these things is to daily be intentional about our spiritual growth and our understanding of God.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


MAY 2015

A Look at Prayer

I wrote last time about the idea of growing in our Christian lives and in doing so I touched a bit on prayer. I want to extend that conversation this month by inviting us to a take closer look at our prayer lives. There are so many ideas that are a part of Christian thinking and the Christian experience. But, I would go out on a limb to say the one that we wonder about the most is this idea of prayer; what should it look like, sound like, feel like?

If we were born into a household of faith, one of the first things that we were taught, perhaps, is a version of the ageless children’s prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen. The prayer offered comfort and assurance in an age when mom or dad still had to look for monsters under the bed each evening and leave a night light on when it was time for sleep.

As we age, chronologically and spiritually, prayer begins to take on a bigger meaning. No longer is it simply the recitation of a familiar verse with some please and thank you thrown in, but prayer also becomes relational. We are told that prayer should become a conversation with God. So, we begin to talk to God like a friend in the room or a person across the table at coffee. That works for us for a while, until we encounter severe hardships and difficulty and we ask our “friend” to do something about it. If our circumstances improve then we are sure that God is listening and prayer works. If our circumstances do not change we may get the idea that maybe prayer does not work; that our prayers do not make it past the ceiling, and never have.

I wish that I had the answer to the reason that our prayers are not answered in the way that we pray. It would be easy to cite James 4 and say that we do not receive what we pray for because we ask in selfish ways that God cannot bless. But, I can’t believe that is always the reason because I know people whose Christian character and level of maturity is such that they consistently pray, in faith, “Thy will be done” rather than the so often “my will be done.” Instead, I think sometimes our understanding of prayer is askew. That we see prayer as the key to our getting the things that we want and need, rather than it being an opportunity to touch heaven from earth.

In some of Jesus’ first words to His disciples as He gave them a model prayer to guide them, we find the clause “in heaven...” I know this is simplistic, and maybe a bit elementary, but these words speak of God’s location. “In heaven,” these words carry the idea of no more sickness or pain, gates of pearl, streets of gold, and heavenly choirs singing; a view of the world to be when this one passes away. But for Jesus speaking to His disciples, “in heaven” would have held an idea of present reality. In other words they would speak to their Father in heaven in the moment in which they lived. The same is true for us. Today, you and I, when we pray, we speak into heaven and to the heavenly Father. Someone I was reading not long ago said that prayer is a sign of the fact that heaven (speaking of God) and earth mingle and fellowship even today. The writer went on to say that prayer is not so much about changing the heart of heaven as it is changing the heart of man, who eagerly engages God on a regular basis.

That is one of the aspects of my Christian experience that I have lately been evaluating as I look at who I am and who I am becoming in Christ. Am I growing in my prayer life? What am I praying for? What are my petitions? Are my prayers only about my concerns and me, or are they bro they been basically the same for a long time? Those are questions that I think help us see not only maturity in our prayer lives, but maturity in our spiritual lives as well, as we understand more and more who God is and who we are when we live in His presence.

This is my challenge: for this time, make the effort to evaluate your prayer life. Not to the point that it becomes a distraction, nor with the idea of becoming a better pray-er. But with the idea that a growing prayer life is a sign of a growing spiritual life; one that is likely not where we would like to be, but surely one a long ways down the road from where we began. Our prayers speak to the heart of God and through them we make ourselves available for God to speak to us.

Peace

Allen


APRIL 2015

Are you growing? I don’t mean are your flowers beginning to bloom or have your bought you garden seeds and plants. But are you growing? It is so easy to simply not grow. It is easy to find a level where we are comfortable and pitch our tents and stake a claim. But is that what we want? Is that who we are called to be? Seems strange to think that way I guess. But if there is no challenge to life, if there is nothing that is beyond our grasp, what is our motivation for getting out of bed in the morning?

Growing by its very nature disrupts the norm and moves things. Potatoes, turnips, and carrots push the soil around their seeds up and out when they begin to grow. The roots of trees and bushes, when they begin to grow, can push up and destroy sidewalks made of concrete that would appear only a large machine could destroy. And people, when they, when we, begin to grow in our lives and faith, and move toward God, we begin to change some part of our world; because the person and holiness of God cannot be encountered and our world stay the same.

One of my favorite ideas found in Scripture comes from 2nd Corinthians at the end of chapter 4. In those words Paul speaks of how even as his present body was dying day by day, that his spirit was still being renewed and he was still growing in service to Christ.

Paul had not found a comfortable spot to pitch his tent or stake his claim; he was still pressing on to give his life for Christ. And not in that he might become a martyr, but that daily he might give his life to Christ. That daily he might make a difference for his Savior. Paul knew the life that God has given us to live is not about the destination, but about the journey. The way that we grow, the way we develop, the way that we invite God to know us and use us.

What are you praying for right now? Is it simply the normal things, children, health, financial concerns, etc.? Those things and people are certainly important and we should each day bring them before God. But what about spiritual and personal growth, about new areas of ministry... are you praying for them, for you? So many of us want God to make a difference in the things we consider the problems of life. Most of us also want to be and some are praying that God use us to change our world or change our church. But are we praying for God to first change us? That is the place where prayers begin to have answers and lives are changed. When we ask God to grow us and change us for this day’s work and all the ones to come.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


MARCH 2015

Is God Through With You?

I am learning new things.  I know that sounds strange, but I am.  I hope that you are too.  It is easy sometimes to think that we have finally arrived.  That the completion of formal training and education is the end of learning, or that retirement says that we are finished with work.  Ask any person who is retired and they will surely say that they have no idea how they ever had time to hold down a regular job.  It is the nature of the beast. We set a goal or we come to the place where society says that we are finished and something in our mind tells us that we are done.  For me the road to ordination was such a journey.  I thought when the Bishop finally laid hands on me and said the words, “Allen, take the authority as an elder to preach the Word of God, and to faithfully administer the Holy Sacraments in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” that somehow I would be finished, that I would have reached the plateau on which I would live out my days.  But, I was wrong.  With the ordination process finally out of the way I hear the voice of God in a different way speaking to me about new ways that I should be about growing and becoming that person that God knows that I can be.            

 I say all of that to say this; God is not finished with you either.  You are not all that God knows that you can be.  You have not finished the last thing that God has for you to do.  You are not as spiritually mature and as close to God as you can be.  There are still moments with God on your horizon, still mountains left to climb, still the voice of God calling you closer.  The Apostle Paul, as he wrote to the church at Philippi said:  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.   Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus  (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV) .   It is strange to think that the Apostle Paul would not see himself as a finished product or a perfected Christian.  With all of his Christian accomplishments it would have been easy for him to think that he was finished, that he was a completed work.  But, he didn’t.  He didn’t because he knew that his journey would not be complete until he left this world and stepped into heaven.

            It is easy to think sometimes we are finished, or that we are mature in Christ, or maybe we are at the place that we are simply waiting on God to call us home.  But if you are reading these words today God has more for you: more ways for you to grow, more things for you to do, more ways that you are called to press on.  As you live today, be bold enough to ask God what is next for you.

Peace,

Allen


FEBRUARY 2015

What do you do with your mind? I know that seems like an odd question to think about. But I think the answer to the questions goes a little deeper than, “I think.” Because as one of the commercials that used to play on television tried to convince us, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

The same kind of thinking also seems to follow a heated exchange or a personal disagreement. We think to ourselves, “I wish I had thought to say this,” or “I wish I had reminded them of that.” Even with the disagreeable exchange behind us by a day or two or even longer, the unpleasant moment can dominate our thinking and shape the moment in which we now live by causing us frustration, anger, ill feelings, or a combination of the three.

Another example that comes to mind as we think about our thinking shaping our lives is that of thinking about and concentrating on things that have not yet taken place, and maybe will not. “What if this happens” or “what if she does that?” When we find ourselves focusing on the negative that could happen, or things that might happen if this or that takes place, we can allow our minds to place a dark cloud over our whole lives, as we try to worry about the possible problems of tomorrow, today.

The Bible offers us some good advice concerning such things, if we are a mind to hear it. From the pen of the Apostle Paul in the book of Philippians chapter 4 verse 8, we find these words. “W hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Paul’s instruction is that we are not to allow our minds to rest on the negative or possible negative moments in life. But, to focus on the things that send our lives in a positive God honoring direction.

This is not Paul offering flippant advice like “turn that frown upside down,” or “look on the sunny side of life.” Instead, he is calling us to reach into ourselves and stop sulking and stewing and live the Christian life, not only with our hands and feet, but with our hearts and our minds, as well. He is saying that there is no good reason to focus on those things which are false or yet unknown. He is saying those things which do not have the highest moral intention should be pushed from our minds. That we should not allow those things that are ugly and leave a stain on our minds to find a resting place within us. But, that only those thoughts and desires that center us on the things that are Godly, the things that push our minds and our lives in a positive and holy direction, the things that bring praise to God when God hears us think. Those are the things that we should give one of our most precious God given gifts to. Yes, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


JANUARY 2015

It seems very often a great sheet of paper lands on my desk about this time of the month. One that is huge and white, bare from edge to edge and top to bottom. And, this huge sheet of paper begs me to write something for the newsletter. Honestly, most months the work is quite hard. What can I say that will matter to you or what can I say that might help? With this month and this year almost gone I thought of some words that lately I have come to realize I have been living into this year. They come from 2 nd Peter 3:8-9, But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  9 The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Sounds like I have done something bad, doesn’t? That I need to get something off my chest, as the saying goes. And, I am sure that some reading this article might be able to very quickly pinpoint my flaws. But let me ask, how well do you see your own? You see, seeing someone else’s flaws in life are no real trick or great skill at all. But seeing our own is a cat of a different color. Finding someone else’s sins and flaws and pointing them out in our Christian world is a pastime for many. “Look what so and so did.” “Do you know what they did to me?” “Have you heard what they did to my friend?” Sometimes finding and gossiping about the sin of another is all the rage. But does such behavior bring us any closer to heaven or any closer to God? If we have any Biblical or Godly sense at all, we know that it doesn’t.

That is why I say that I have been living into the words from 2 nd Peter 3:8-9 this year. Because this year as I have looked at myself and looked at my own life I have been able to see the patience and love God has for me as I have come to see more and more the places that I have offended God and the things that drive a wedge between He and I. When I focus on my flaws and the places that I need to change, it seems that everyone else’s sins move to the background and are pretty easy for me to overlook because mine are so great. The words of Peter highlighted above are usually interpreted in such a way that God’s compassion is to be seen as an umbrella idea encompassing all of humanity. In one sense I guess they are. But when looked at more deeply and more personally, they are also words that demonstrate God’s love and compassion for each one of us as individuals; you and me, right where we are.

If you want to know God this coming year in a deeper way than you ever have before, start by being honest with God about you and forget about what everyone around you is doing. Don’t worry about their sin, about their shortfalls, about how bad they have been. Just concentrate on you and your life before God. After all God is patient and God is kind, not wanting any to perish or even spend another day separated from Him. We draw close to God by using more of our time reading the Bible and asking God to speak in a way that we can hear. If you need some help with that I have a great resource (passed on to me by someone else) that will quite literally change your life. All that you need to do is let me know you want it and it is yours.

Folks it is a new year and a new time to call out to the God of the universe. Give God the space and the opportunity and there is no doubt that He will help you build a relationship with Him that you have never known before. In this coming year God calls on each of us to be bold enough and honest enough with Him to repent not only of individual sins, but patterns of sin that have held you in the same dry place for a long, long time. If you are bold enough to really want to know God, there is no doubt that God will make Himself known to you.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


DECEMBER 2014

Peace

Can you hear the carols yet?

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening.
A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight;
walking in a winter wonderland.

Or maybe:

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos....

The songs and the season is upon us, isn't it?  As the world is now in full swing of telling us that “Christmas time’s a comin.”  I am a little afraid that I come across like the Mr. Grinch from Dr. Seuss’ children’s book How the Grinch Stole Christmas!  This time of year; because Christmas is not always my favorite time.  For one thing, at the beginning of November when the deeply discounted plastic Jack-O-Lanterns and the smiling plastic Santa's are on display at Walmart and Kroger at the same time it just does something to me.  It stirs in me a protest that says that Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin and the shepherds of Luke chapter 2 should simply not hold hands!  Such scenes also leave me more than a little suspicious about my ability to buy more Christmas at K-mart. I just have such a hard time during this and of the year knowing how I should act and what my attitude should be.  Andy Williams tells me again and again, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

But somehow I am still not convinced, which ultimately leads to guilt.  After all, I am a Christian and Christmas is about good cheer and the Savior, right?

I wished it were.  But culture works to convince us each year that somehow we should experience extreme happiness and joy because of all that we have and all that we have the opportunities to give. While at the same time the same culture piles on the guilt because there are so many others who are not as fortunate as we.

This year I am going to try something different.  I really am.  I am going to try to look for the Savior in this Advent and Christmas season.  After all, Advent does mean the arrival or the coming of the Savior, pointing to the in-breaking of God into the world where you and I now reside.  What an exciting moment in human history when God became flesh to dwell among us.  Israel had been promised for hundreds of years that the Savior was coming and yet they had almost stopped looking. I don’t want to make the same mistake by not experiencing the Savior when He comes so very near in so many ways.  That does not mean that I am not going to shop for gifts for loved ones.  It also does not mean that I am not going to give in the places that I feel the leading of the Spirit of God. What it does mean though is that I am not going to let those things cause me miss the present of the presence of the Savior this year.  The Scriptures say to us, Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  This year I want to hear the words of the angels myself, and I pray that you come to know the Savior more than ever this year. 

Allen


NOVEMBER 2014

When it was first mentioned that October 2014 would be the 10 year anniversary of the present home of Kresge UMC, I have to admit that I was not really excited about the prospects of planning or participating in such a day. To me it felt like being invited to the birthday or anniversary party of a friend of a friend. My reasoning was that I was not here when the idea for the “new church” was birthed and nurtured. I was not here for the purchasing of the land or the choosing of the architect. I was not here for any of the capital campaigns, the barbecues, or any of the money raising activities for that matter. I was not here to see the grading of the site. I was not here to see the first slab poured, or the walls going up, or the parking lot being paved. I was not here for the walkover from West Avenue or the consecration service. I was not here for any of the excitement or the hoopla. Simply put, I felt like a “Johnny come lately.” What memories could I contribute? Or, what might I add to such a special day?

That is pretty much where my mind, and truthfully my heart was when I thought of the 10-year anniversary day. That is until I began to ponder, and yes pray about the day. It was in that process that I began to see that if being here “when it all began” was the criteria for participation, then none of us really had a place at the table or a stake in the matter. Because all of us are “Johnny come latelys” to the Kresge story; and none of us were here on the first day. I have a friend who lives in Franklin County in the northeast part of the state and one day he and I were talking and killing time and I asked the question, “have you lived here all of your life?” He replied, “No, but I got here as quick as I could.” That is where we all are in the Kresge UMC story and legacy. We all “got here as quick as we could” and are here at this time and this place to make our mark and become a part of a future celebration of the beginning and on-going ministry of Kresge UMC.

The Kresge that is today does not too much resemble the first meetings that were held in the house “behind the old Goodyear ball field” as Mr. Howard Jackson shared. It is not the same ministry that cleaned up a greasy knittin’ mill so more people could get in for preaching and worship, either. It is not the original frame West Avenue Methodist Church which was built in 1918, or the brick building of 1950 that is so fondly remembered and later became known as Anna M. Kresge Memorial United Methodist Church. Instead, today Kresge is the church on Booger Hollow Road which houses scouting programs, Kresge Kids, adult Bible Studies, outreach in the community, takes part in the bedding program and takes care of special needs as they arise. In our faithfulness and acts of love we have much to offer God and a lot of “good” to feel good about.

The Apostle Paul, as he was nearing the end of his life, wrote to Timothy, his young partner in ministry, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”The writer of Hebrews challenged his audience, and us today, “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”Sunday as we thought together and looked around it was easy to see the marks of the early ministry on what we do today. Ministries meant to share the love and hope of Jesus Christ with the world at the place and time we are planted. Ministry and Christian service is not for the faint-at-heart though. Things do not always turnout as we hope they might; sometimes we don’t get our way, sometimes church mates and people that we care deeply for turn and walk away from commitments disappointing us deeply and leaving us with even more of the load to carry. It is sometimes so easy to be down and even give-up. But then a part of our legacy and our hope is remembered, like it was Sunday. And, our faith is renewed that this is our place and this is our time and that in God’s strength we will persevere and in faith finish the race that God has set before us.

eople of God, be encouraged in that the same God who ministered through the people in the old knittin’ mill, in the McCarty Settlement House, and on West Avenue is the same God who is with us today. And God is using us, to make memories today that will be used to encourage future generations who minister in the name of God and Kresge UMC to make a difference in our world through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness to what God is doing in our hearts and lives. We are not at the beginning, neither are we at the end, but today we are living into our moment as the Kresge UMC legacy continues. Thanks be to God.


OCTOBER 2014

It is Well With My Soul

I am usually very settled as I sit to write this article each month. In it I try to share insights concerning things that I have observed in the faith or the world over the past month, and things that I hope give you a sounding board or a conversation starter for observations that you are making yourself concerning your part of the world and the Kingdom of God. This month I have been a little more scattered than usual, there have been several circumstances that have garnered my attention and things that I have seen happen around them that I wanted to address. But this month, I have decided that I will save those thoughts until another time, and share with you something else.

If I were to ask any one of you, I think that it would be safe to say that you would tell me that the world is in a mess. That the politics of the day are horrible and discouraging, that the economy down on our level is as bad if not worse than we have ever seen it and that personal responsibility is on the decline along with true empathy, caring, and concern. It can be, and maybe often times is, discouraging to see things spiral out of our control and have things happen in our lives and in the lives of family and friends that leave us feeling more like victims, rather than people in charge of our own lives and our own destiny.

You may have heard his story before, but I wanted to offer you a few thoughts from the life of a man (and his wife) who knew what it meant to hurt and to lose much, and maybe feel like victims. His name was Horatio G. Spafford. Mr. Spafford was born in 1828 and later moved to Chicago. He studied law and became very proficient in its practice, so much so that he even began to teach jurisprudence in his new home. With his wealth from practicing law, Mr. Spafford became a real estate investor and speculator purchasing many properties in downtown Chicago. In 1871 the great fire that destroyed much of the Chicago business district claimed all of Mr. Spafford’s properties there, the losses were devastating. Mr. Spafford and his wife managed though, continuing to enjoy and raise their 4 young girls.

Perhaps to entertain themselves with new scenery, and maybe get his mind off of things for a while the Safford’s decided that they would take a family trip to England in 1873. Mr. Spafford had some business that held him for a few weeks, so he sent his wife and girls on ahead with the promise that he would join them soon. That was not to be however, as the ship that the family was on, many days out at sea, collided with another ship and sank almost immediately. All of the children were lost, and his wife was saved only by a miracle as her unconscious body was found lying across a piece of floating debris. The telegram that followed was heart wrenching, it simply said, “saved alone.”

Mr. Spafford boarded the next ship leaving New York so that he and his wife could comfort one another in their moment of loss. At a time, which had been calculated by the ship’s captain, Mr. Spafford was called to the bridge of the ship and told that they were now passing the place where his daughters had been lost in the shipwreck. Mr. Spafford thanked the captain and returned to his cabin, for a moment he sat, and then he pinned these words .

”W hen peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul. It is well, it is well, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

As you probably know, there are three more verses to that very famous song, each with the message of hope in the face of difficult times. I have found that music and hymns of the faith have a way of speaking to the very deepest places in our hearts. This is true of the songs in our hymnbooks and the songs found in The Scriptures, known commonly as the book of Psalms. Some places that might help to make the Bible a source of strength when life is closing in are as follows: when we are discouraged, Psalms 23 and 42; when searching for refuge, Psalms 46 and 91; when searching for sure help, Psalms 121, 130, and 146. In addition to these, there are many more places that we can find strength and help in our times of need. The road may be hard to travel right now and there may not be much to make us smile. But the world that we live is more that what we see. God is with us, God cares for us, and His greatest desire is for us to rest the full load of our troubles upon Him, when we are able to do that we will surely find that it is well with our souls.

Peace and Blessings, Allen


SEPTEMBER 2014

What does it mean to (really) have a relationship with God?

I realized as soon as I typed that question that everyone who will read it already has an opinion on this matter. We know that God's people don't cuss, drink or chew, and don't date girls or boys that do. We know that God's people go to church on Sundays and sometimes mid-week. We know that we serve God in some way. Most likely you can think of another item or two that at least makes your list of what it means when you say that you have a relationship with God. And, it is wonderful that we think on such things, that we try to have an idea of what it means to be in relationship with God and live it out in our lives.

I think though that our doer attitude and mentality gets in the way sometimes, though. That it is too easy to condemn ourselves when we feel that we have failed, or wring our shoulders out of the socket patting ourselves on the back when we believe that we have accomplished that which should earn us smiley faces on our spiritual report cards. I think in all of the evaluation and metrics and hullabaloo that we interject into our lives before God that we miss that which should be first and that which should be most important.

What am I talking about? I am talking about simply being with God. Not looking for ways to impress God or impress our church mates. Not look for ways that we seem o-so-spiritual or like a next level Christian. But we look for ways to have a deep and an authentic relationship with the God of this universe, the keeper of our souls, the only One who really knows us inside and out and yet loves us anyway.

I have probably shared this with you before, but some of my favorite images from Scripture come from the book of Genesis. The first is in chapter 3 and verses 8-9. The Message translation helps us remember that moment this way, “ 8 When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze, the Man and his Wife hid in the trees of the garden, hid from God called to the Man: ‘Where are you?’"

Now I know theological types will quickly point a boney finger to this passage and those words and see in them the fall of humanity and the first time that human beings were afraid of God. Without a doubt I have to say that assertion is correct. But for a moment notice the other part of the text, the part that talks about what God is doing. It says that God was walking in the Garden in the cool of the day calling to Adam and Eve that He might find them and spend time with them. I know that even before God calls their names that He already knows what Adam and Eve have done. But for a moment set that idea and that day aside, and think about God walking through the Garden all the days before when God would stop by to pay Adam and Eve a visit. I can't help it, but the picture that comes to mind is a shady front porch with rockers and a swing, and good friends chatting and reminiscing the late afternoon into darkness; just good friends being together.

Another favorite image that comes to mind are the words of Genesis 5 that describe the relationship between God and a man named Enoch. In a chapter that is mostly so-and-so begat so-and-so and he lived this many years and had other sons and daughters there is a rather captivating image: 21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. 24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. I know there are very words there to help us, but can't you just see God and Enoch walking down a county road or together on a hike through the wood? They are together in fellowship and friendship enjoying one another's company.

I heard this little story once about a Sunday School teacher who spoke of Enoch and how he walked with God and then he was no more because God took him away. He said he did not understand those words completely, but knew they meant something special. A little boy in the teacher's class raised his hand and said that he understood. The teacher replied, “Please tell me.” The little boy said, “Enoch loved God and God loved Enoch and they took long walks together. One day they were walking and talking and they came closer to God's house than Enoch's, so God said, „Enoch, just come on home with me‟ and he did.” I don't know if that is precisely the meaning of those verses, but I sure like the interpretation.

It is easy to be a doer, and it easy is to try to measure our spirituality by the good that we do. But, God never meant for it to be that way. Instead, He wants to know you and He wants that You know Him first, deeply and intimately. It is out of that love and that relationship that everything else will follow.

Peace & Blessings,

Allen

 


AUGUST 2014

Is this you?

If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good! But there are preconditions: A leader must be well-thought-of, committed to his wife, cool and collected, accessible, and hospitable. He must know what he's talking about, not be overfond of wine, not pushy but gentle, not thin-skinned, not money-hungry. He must handle his own affairs well, attentive to his own children and having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God's church? He must not be a new believer, lest the position go to his head and the Devil trip him up. Outsiders must think well of him, or else the Devil will figure out a way to lure him into his trap.

The same goes for those who want to be servants in the church: serious, not deceitful, not too free with the bottle, not in it for what they can get out of it. They must be reverent before the mystery of the faith, not using their position to try to run things. Let them prove themselves first. If they show they can do it, take them on. No exceptions are to be made for women—same qualifications: serious, dependable, not sharp-tongued, not overfond of wine. Servants in the church are to be committed to their spouses, attentive to their own children, and diligent in looking after their own affairs. “Those who do this servant work will come to be highly respected, a real credit to this Jesus-faith.” (I Timothy 3:1-13 – The Message)

Over the next couple of months, the members of the Committee on Lay Leadership will again begin to nominate people who will provide leadership in particular areas of our church for the calendar year 2015. During this time, we will encounter people who feel they have a calling to particular jobs because their natural abilities are the same as those certain positions seem to require. There will also be others who would like to serve or who are willing to serve, but are not quite sure where they might fit in. In either case, as the pastor and as members of the Committee on Lay Leadership meet we will be looking for and praying for the people and structures that will enhance the ministry of our church and build up the body of Christ in places that God calls us to.

“What criteria will you use?,” some might wonder. As the Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend and helper in the faith Timothy, he gave the words that I have printed for you above to help Timothy as he led the church at Ephesus; they stand as criteria for us today as well. In the above two paragraphs I think some of the things that Paul writes are givens and have no real application for us in that all of the people that we have to choose from are well thought of, committed to their spouses, and not overfond of wine. But there are other criteria mentioned here that are vitality important, cool and collected, accessible, hospitable, must know what they are talking about (informed), not pushy but gentle, not thin-skinned. In looking at these, what we notice is there are characteristics which are desirable as leaders and committee people in a certain area listen, interact with, as well as explain the thought process of the committee of which they are a part. It never does any good to be a bully, or a hot-head, or put people off. Rather, what is needed in dealing with the work of a committee is a person who is well informed, a person who is not pushy or overbearing but gentle in their dealings with others, also a person who is not thinned skinned, but willing to explain and sometimes maybe re-explain, and even listen again when someone has a concern.

The second set of criteria that we see in these words of Paul are words that have to do with intentions and the condition of a leader’s heart. They are, not being deceitful, not in it for what they can get out of it, not using their position to try to run things. It is so hard when we offer ourselves for service to not be passionate about our vision and our beliefs.If we are not passionate about what we believe then we are probably will not make very good committee member. On the other hand, if our methods are not respectable and not Christ-like, or we use our position to get something for ourselves, or we try to force our opinions and our ways on everyone else regardless of the consequences for the church or other people involved, then such actions are regrettable and there is no room for that kind of leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ.

Our Church and our God needs people who are servants of Christ at heart, and people who want to serve above being served. Pray that those people can be found when the committee meets, and that you are one of those people.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen

 


JULY 2014

Together....

Well, we made it through our first year together. I don’t know about you, but from where I have been sitting things have been up and down, and a time or two there have been some pretty close calls. But we made it, and we are together, at least for another year.

In our time together so far, I have noticed some things about you and us that are sometimes overlooked and often undervalued. The first of them is there are some really fine members and regular attendees in and associated with the Anna Kresge Memorial United Methodist Church. Sometimes the quality of and the wonderful things that happen among us for good and for God goes unnoticed or are not recognized because of other things that are distracting and seem to garner the lion’s share of our attention. For instance the Kresge Kids ministry, I wish I had the total number of kids that were welcomed into our church last year on Wednesday evenings to be fed a meal, instructed in the faith, and in some way saw the love of Jesus in the eyes and actions of the adults who gave so much of themselves so that program could flourish. I also wish that I had the number of backpacks that were prepared by the United Methodist Women, the number of times that beds were purchased for the less fortunate in our community, the special items that were funded by the United Methodist Men, the other areas that money was raised and donated for, the number of prayers that were lifted-up for needs that came to the churchby ourprayer ministry team, the number of people who were picked up on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening by our daring van drivers, the hours and days spent preparing for and putting on the barbecue, and thehours spent working at the Samaritan House and the soup kitchen. And, that list does not include the hours and dollars spent in mission and ministry in Nicaragua, Cluij and Sibiu Romania, at Red Bird Missions in Kentucky, nor the hours that are spent year round by the wonderful souls that come to clean, pull weeds, trim shrubbery, place pine straw, and make repairs to the building. Not because it makes them famous, but simply they want to provide those ministries as servants to the church. Folks, we have a lot of wonderful things happening and God is surely pleased by them. Yet highlighting the good does not relieve us from looking for areas where we can grow. If I am not mistaken we had 80 people in church last Sunday, a good crowd, but we have seats for twice that many . I am sure, and I have heard some of you talking recently, about how just in the areas right around our campus, there are people who might visit and maybe become a part of our family if we would just ask. There are people that you know and see on a regular basis who would love to be a part of a church family like this, if we were bold enough to ask. In the coming year I hope that we will together invite our community to come and see what we are about. In our coming year together I hope that we will also be open that our hearts be healed. Some of us are holding on to the past today and not embracing the present, let’s let this be the year that we let the past fade away so that we can see how bright our future can really be.

Folks, we are the people. I repeat, we are the people of God and there is much to be thankful for and much to look forward to in this church of ours. Let’s pray that this is the year that we do not miss a single blessing God has for our church or our community.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen

 


JUNE 2014

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE

It is funny sometimes when you remember something and that thing becomes stuck in your thoughts. I was “having my quiet time” as Christians sometimes call it a little while back and the writer said something that reminded me of some very famous song lyrics.

I will share a few lines and I am sure you will be able to finish the rest. “All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.”

Of course you recognize these words as the chorus from a tune by the same title written in 1967 by John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles. When asked why they had written such a melody, Brian Epstein manager of the world famous band, said the group had been asked to write a song whose message could be universally understood and those now famous words were the result. I cannot help but wonder, if perhaps those men had not been peaking over the shoulder of the Apostle Paul as they wrote.

The great preacher and missionary, approximately 1900 years earlier, had been inspired by God to make the same message plain to the world in which he lived through his letter to the Church at Corinth. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. If does not dishonor others, it is not self- seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”(I Cor. 13:4-5) The chapter and its description of the attributes of love is much longer. But, I suspect if we simply worked on these few ideas a while our world would be a better place. Heck, our home and even our church would be better places if we could simply lead with love.

In his book "Love or Perish" , Smiley Blanton gives these thoughts as to the importance of unqualified love.

“Without love, hopes perish.

Without love, dreams and creativity perish.

Without love, families and churches perish.

Without love, friendships perish.

Without love, the intimacies of romance perish.

Without love, the desire to go on living can perish.”

So often we find ourselves sure that others have gone beyond the boundaries of our love. We are sure their inconsiderate and hurtful acts disqualify them from anything but acceptable social civility. How can that be true if the God who taught us to love is willing to continue to love us with all of our faults and frailties? So next time, before you act, before you speak, before you begin to rehearse the wrong another has done, be reminded of the

love that God has shown for you and then use that as a pattern for your actions. “All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.”

Peace & Blessings,

Allen

 

COPYRIGHT SITE HELP PRIVACY

 

JULY 2015

Servant – Leadership?

I have been thinking about an idea for the last few weeks or so, it is the idea of servant-leadership. Over my years of church life and preparing to be a pastor, I do not know how many times I have heard people speak on this subject and talk about its importance. Yet, no one has ever helped me to really understand how to live out the life of a servant-leader. Consulting with the dictionary to understand the terms offers no help or real insight. Because a leader is defined as; “a person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.” While a servant is defined as one who is; “a devoted and helpful follower or supporter.” It seems that if one were to place these two definitions on a line graph that servant would be one extreme and leader would the other. Quiet the conundrum if we are really called to be both.

Though Jesus never used the term, it is in His life that we find the idea of servant-leader. Jesus was a servant to God when He came into this world; at the same time He was the leader of the disciples. Jesus was a servant to many who were sick, afflicted, and hungry; at the same time He had total control over their infirmities and lack and proved thusly through His ministry. Jesus was servant to both God and humanity at the cross; yet at the same time He was master of His own destiny as He had made it plain in John’s Gospel that, “ No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For, I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again.”   In these roles it is easy to see Jesus as both servant and leader as He was always subservient to God’s ministry to all of humanity; while at the same time He was God-in-the-flesh having power over all situations.

As you ponder those examples you may be thinking that you see and agree with the illustrations, but you are really no closer to applying the idea of servant-leader than you were when you began reading. I agree, because that is where my thinking has been. But, there is at least one place in Scripture that gives us clear insight and instruction that we can follow and apply, though. It is from John’s Gospel chapter 13. In this chapter John invites us into the upper room to see Jesus and the disciples together for the last time. Jesus no doubt held the seat reserved for the leader of the Passover meal. His role in the meal would have been to lead in retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. As the meal progressed, Jesus would have remind and instructed those seated around the table how each item and each movement in the meal is meant to be a reminder of what God had done in the lives of His people; as God moved their nation out of their slavery in Egypt and into His freedom. This role is very important and would have visibly set Jesus in a place above the disciples that evening.

There was another role that was needful and important. Yet, it was not nearly as attractive as the role of the leader. It was the role of washing feet. In the time of Jesus, most people walked in their travels and did so barefoot or in very open sandals. So, one of the things needful when guests would arrive for a meal or a visit was their feet would need to be washed so as to remove the grit and grime from the dirty roads on which they traveled. This was an act of service, and a gift, provided by the host. On His last Passover night with His disciples, Jesus got up from the head of the table, the position of leadership and authority, and He made Himself the servant to all who were gathered. If we use the words found in the Book of Philippians that explain Jesus’ life to describe this moment, we would say, “Though he was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up His divine privileges and He took the humble position of a slave.” ( Philippians 2:6-7, New Living Translation)

With only a cursory reading of John 13 it is not hard for us to see this scene play out. After all leadership and service is what Jesus was all about. But when we look into the scene where Jesus is both master of the table and servant of the gathered, it becomes more difficult. Because, we begin to understand that we are to do the same. Jesus said to His disciples after He has washed their feet this is the way those who follow Him are to act. They are to serve one another, and by extension serve the world. Therefore servant-leadership is to be all that God has called us to be by daily exercising and living out our spiritual gifts, while at the same time not allowing our knowledge, our power, or our position to stand between us and our serving the people that God puts us in contact with each and every day.

There is no doubt there is a servant-leader in each of us. The challenge in being both a servant and a leader is being able to have full confidence in what God has gifted us to do and living it out each day, while at the same time not living as if there are tasks or even people below our station or our position when God directs us to a need that we can meet. Thinking through this idea has helped me to see the places where I can grow in my Christian calling. I hope that it does the same for you.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


JUNE 2015

Who needs Spiritual Growth?

The Christian tract, the Four Spiritual Laws, has as its first statement of spiritual truth “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” As a pastor, and moreover a practicing Christian, I have no doubt that is true. As a matter of fact, if I did not believe that is true, life in the church and life in the community of faith would have very little meaning for me at all. But knowing that God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life means there is more for me to know of God and His will for my life. Because with knowing God also comes experiencing God an experiencing God’s work in our lives which leads us to the idea of spiritual growth, i.e. the ideas of deepening our understanding of who God is and how God works in us and though us.

In thinking about this idea maybe your first thought is can we or should we even try to measure our “spiritual” lives? I believe that if we give any thought to the life of the Apostle Paul that we easily find a pattern of intentional, spiritual, God-honoring growth. Just in the short span of his life that we find in the New Testament, we see Paul move from legalistic law-keeper to a man of grace and mercy. The Apostle Peter makes the move from rough, tuff, fisherman, to preacher and leader in the early church. Therefore, spiritual growth is the norm and pattern if we are going to follow where God is leading us.

So, how do we know that we are growing spiritually and how can we know that are pursuing God’s will for our lives? The first way is by asking the simple question, “Do I really have a relationship with God?” Not, “are you saved?” Not, “do you go to church?” But, “do you really have a relationship with God?” The question of relationship goes much deeper than simply asking God to save us, or our showing up in church most Sundays, or even our willingness to do things that we believe that God would have us do. Relationship has to do with everyday conversation and presence with God. It has to do with our searching the Scriptures for what God is saying to us today, about the situations we find ourselves in. It has to do with the idea of God’s Holy Spirit being able to uniquely lead us through intimate time spent with God. So do you have an everyday, ongoing, deepening relationship with God? If the answer is “no,” then daily is where our relationship with God begins; by not only reading Scriptures and praying, but by asking God to speak to us in those moments.

A second part of spiritual growth is our willingness to submit our lives to God. The simple question that we should ask ourselves often is, “am I submitting in the areas where I know that God has spoken to me?” In the book of Romans the Apostle Paul teaches a concept that is hard for many of us to swallow: submission. We want to be our own people, do our own thing, and let the hair go with the hide. But God calls us to live our lives under His guidance and as a glory to Him. Romans 12:1-2 [NLT] says:

 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you , which is good and pleasing and perfect.

 One of the surest signs of our growing spiritually and in our relationship with God is when we sacrifice our very worldly wants and desires as an act of worship because what we want does not honor God.

When we deny ourselves something that we really want and surely can have, but we say “no” to that thing because our relationship with God is more important, that is a sure sign that we are on the right path.

The final thought that I want to mention concerning measuring our spiritual growth is the idea of contentment. Maybe an easier way to frame this thought is the idea of our accepting the role that God has chosen for us at a particular time in life. In other words are you a servant to God where God has chosen or allowed you to serve right now? In the society in which we live we are taught from a very early age that we work for want we want and we don’t let anyone stand in our way of having it. But in the way that God sometimes allows the world to work, we are not always chosen for the role that we would like to fill at a certain place or time and we do not always get what we believe that we deserve. Yet even in our disappointments we serve God out of our love for God, whether the place that we find ourselves is a stepping-stone or perhaps our final destination. To give all that we have to the work before us, whether it be what we want or what we don’t, says so much about how we are growing into God’s Kingdom that is being planted in our world. In 1 st Timothy 6:6, Paul tells Timothy that true godliness with contentment is great reward, as we bring nothing into this world when we come and we can take nothing when we go. The only reward that is ours eternally comes from the way that we are faithful to God in our circumstances today.

There are many things biding for our attentions today. Things that distract us, things that can change who we are if we are not careful, things that can come between God and us if we are not vigilant and always on our guard. The only way to defend ourselves against these things is to daily be intentional about our spiritual growth and our understanding of God.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


MAY 2015

A Look at Prayer

I wrote last time about the idea of growing in our Christian lives and in doing so I touched a bit on prayer. I want to extend that conversation this month by inviting us to a take closer look at our prayer lives. There are so many ideas that are a part of Christian thinking and the Christian experience. But, I would go out on a limb to say the one that we wonder about the most is this idea of prayer; what should it look like, sound like, feel like?

If we were born into a household of faith, one of the first things that we were taught, perhaps, is a version of the ageless children’s prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen. The prayer offered comfort and assurance in an age when mom or dad still had to look for monsters under the bed each evening and leave a night light on when it was time for sleep.

As we age, chronologically and spiritually, prayer begins to take on a bigger meaning. No longer is it simply the recitation of a familiar verse with some please and thank you thrown in, but prayer also becomes relational. We are told that prayer should become a conversation with God. So, we begin to talk to God like a friend in the room or a person across the table at coffee. That works for us for a while, until we encounter severe hardships and difficulty and we ask our “friend” to do something about it. If our circumstances improve then we are sure that God is listening and prayer works. If our circumstances do not change we may get the idea that maybe prayer does not work; that our prayers do not make it past the ceiling, and never have.

I wish that I had the answer to the reason that our prayers are not answered in the way that we pray. It would be easy to cite James 4 and say that we do not receive what we pray for because we ask in selfish ways that God cannot bless. But, I can’t believe that is always the reason because I know people whose Christian character and level of maturity is such that they consistently pray, in faith, “Thy will be done” rather than the so often “my will be done.” Instead, I think sometimes our understanding of prayer is askew. That we see prayer as the key to our getting the things that we want and need, rather than it being an opportunity to touch heaven from earth.

In some of Jesus’ first words to His disciples as He gave them a model prayer to guide them, we find the clause “in heaven...” I know this is simplistic, and maybe a bit elementary, but these words speak of God’s location. “In heaven,” these words carry the idea of no more sickness or pain, gates of pearl, streets of gold, and heavenly choirs singing; a view of the world to be when this one passes away. But for Jesus speaking to His disciples, “in heaven” would have held an idea of present reality. In other words they would speak to their Father in heaven in the moment in which they lived. The same is true for us. Today, you and I, when we pray, we speak into heaven and to the heavenly Father. Someone I was reading not long ago said that prayer is a sign of the fact that heaven (speaking of God) and earth mingle and fellowship even today. The writer went on to say that prayer is not so much about changing the heart of heaven as it is changing the heart of man, who eagerly engages God on a regular basis.

That is one of the aspects of my Christian experience that I have lately been evaluating as I look at who I am and who I am becoming in Christ. Am I growing in my prayer life? What am I praying for? What are my petitions? Are my prayers only about my concerns and me, or are they bro they been basically the same for a long time? Those are questions that I think help us see not only maturity in our prayer lives, but maturity in our spiritual lives as well, as we understand more and more who God is and who we are when we live in His presence.

This is my challenge: for this time, make the effort to evaluate your prayer life. Not to the point that it becomes a distraction, nor with the idea of becoming a better pray-er. But with the idea that a growing prayer life is a sign of a growing spiritual life; one that is likely not where we would like to be, but surely one a long ways down the road from where we began. Our prayers speak to the heart of God and through them we make ourselves available for God to speak to us.

Peace

Allen


APRIL 2015

Are you growing? I don’t mean are your flowers beginning to bloom or have your bought you garden seeds and plants. But are you growing? It is so easy to simply not grow. It is easy to find a level where we are comfortable and pitch our tents and stake a claim. But is that what we want? Is that who we are called to be? Seems strange to think that way I guess. But if there is no challenge to life, if there is nothing that is beyond our grasp, what is our motivation for getting out of bed in the morning?

Growing by its very nature disrupts the norm and moves things. Potatoes, turnips, and carrots push the soil around their seeds up and out when they begin to grow. The roots of trees and bushes, when they begin to grow, can push up and destroy sidewalks made of concrete that would appear only a large machine could destroy. And people, when they, when we, begin to grow in our lives and faith, and move toward God, we begin to change some part of our world; because the person and holiness of God cannot be encountered and our world stay the same.

One of my favorite ideas found in Scripture comes from 2nd Corinthians at the end of chapter 4. In those words Paul speaks of how even as his present body was dying day by day, that his spirit was still being renewed and he was still growing in service to Christ.

Paul had not found a comfortable spot to pitch his tent or stake his claim; he was still pressing on to give his life for Christ. And not in that he might become a martyr, but that daily he might give his life to Christ. That daily he might make a difference for his Savior. Paul knew the life that God has given us to live is not about the destination, but about the journey. The way that we grow, the way we develop, the way that we invite God to know us and use us.

What are you praying for right now? Is it simply the normal things, children, health, financial concerns, etc.? Those things and people are certainly important and we should each day bring them before God. But what about spiritual and personal growth, about new areas of ministry... are you praying for them, for you? So many of us want God to make a difference in the things we consider the problems of life. Most of us also want to be and some are praying that God use us to change our world or change our church. But are we praying for God to first change us? That is the place where prayers begin to have answers and lives are changed. When we ask God to grow us and change us for this day’s work and all the ones to come.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


MARCH 2015

Is God Through With You?

I am learning new things.  I know that sounds strange, but I am.  I hope that you are too.  It is easy sometimes to think that we have finally arrived.  That the completion of formal training and education is the end of learning, or that retirement says that we are finished with work.  Ask any person who is retired and they will surely say that they have no idea how they ever had time to hold down a regular job.  It is the nature of the beast. We set a goal or we come to the place where society says that we are finished and something in our mind tells us that we are done.  For me the road to ordination was such a journey.  I thought when the Bishop finally laid hands on me and said the words, “Allen, take the authority as an elder to preach the Word of God, and to faithfully administer the Holy Sacraments in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” that somehow I would be finished, that I would have reached the plateau on which I would live out my days.  But, I was wrong.  With the ordination process finally out of the way I hear the voice of God in a different way speaking to me about new ways that I should be about growing and becoming that person that God knows that I can be.            

 I say all of that to say this; God is not finished with you either.  You are not all that God knows that you can be.  You have not finished the last thing that God has for you to do.  You are not as spiritually mature and as close to God as you can be.  There are still moments with God on your horizon, still mountains left to climb, still the voice of God calling you closer.  The Apostle Paul, as he wrote to the church at Philippi said:  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.   Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus  (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV) .   It is strange to think that the Apostle Paul would not see himself as a finished product or a perfected Christian.  With all of his Christian accomplishments it would have been easy for him to think that he was finished, that he was a completed work.  But, he didn’t.  He didn’t because he knew that his journey would not be complete until he left this world and stepped into heaven.

            It is easy to think sometimes we are finished, or that we are mature in Christ, or maybe we are at the place that we are simply waiting on God to call us home.  But if you are reading these words today God has more for you: more ways for you to grow, more things for you to do, more ways that you are called to press on.  As you live today, be bold enough to ask God what is next for you.

Peace,

Allen


FEBRUARY 2015

What do you do with your mind? I know that seems like an odd question to think about. But I think the answer to the questions goes a little deeper than, “I think.” Because as one of the commercials that used to play on television tried to convince us, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

The same kind of thinking also seems to follow a heated exchange or a personal disagreement. We think to ourselves, “I wish I had thought to say this,” or “I wish I had reminded them of that.” Even with the disagreeable exchange behind us by a day or two or even longer, the unpleasant moment can dominate our thinking and shape the moment in which we now live by causing us frustration, anger, ill feelings, or a combination of the three.

Another example that comes to mind as we think about our thinking shaping our lives is that of thinking about and concentrating on things that have not yet taken place, and maybe will not. “What if this happens” or “what if she does that?” When we find ourselves focusing on the negative that could happen, or things that might happen if this or that takes place, we can allow our minds to place a dark cloud over our whole lives, as we try to worry about the possible problems of tomorrow, today.

The Bible offers us some good advice concerning such things, if we are a mind to hear it. From the pen of the Apostle Paul in the book of Philippians chapter 4 verse 8, we find these words. “W hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Paul’s instruction is that we are not to allow our minds to rest on the negative or possible negative moments in life. But, to focus on the things that send our lives in a positive God honoring direction.

This is not Paul offering flippant advice like “turn that frown upside down,” or “look on the sunny side of life.” Instead, he is calling us to reach into ourselves and stop sulking and stewing and live the Christian life, not only with our hands and feet, but with our hearts and our minds, as well. He is saying that there is no good reason to focus on those things which are false or yet unknown. He is saying those things which do not have the highest moral intention should be pushed from our minds. That we should not allow those things that are ugly and leave a stain on our minds to find a resting place within us. But, that only those thoughts and desires that center us on the things that are Godly, the things that push our minds and our lives in a positive and holy direction, the things that bring praise to God when God hears us think. Those are the things that we should give one of our most precious God given gifts to. Yes, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


JANUARY 2015

It seems very often a great sheet of paper lands on my desk about this time of the month. One that is huge and white, bare from edge to edge and top to bottom. And, this huge sheet of paper begs me to write something for the newsletter. Honestly, most months the work is quite hard. What can I say that will matter to you or what can I say that might help? With this month and this year almost gone I thought of some words that lately I have come to realize I have been living into this year. They come from 2 nd Peter 3:8-9, But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  9 The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Sounds like I have done something bad, doesn’t? That I need to get something off my chest, as the saying goes. And, I am sure that some reading this article might be able to very quickly pinpoint my flaws. But let me ask, how well do you see your own? You see, seeing someone else’s flaws in life are no real trick or great skill at all. But seeing our own is a cat of a different color. Finding someone else’s sins and flaws and pointing them out in our Christian world is a pastime for many. “Look what so and so did.” “Do you know what they did to me?” “Have you heard what they did to my friend?” Sometimes finding and gossiping about the sin of another is all the rage. But does such behavior bring us any closer to heaven or any closer to God? If we have any Biblical or Godly sense at all, we know that it doesn’t.

That is why I say that I have been living into the words from 2 nd Peter 3:8-9 this year. Because this year as I have looked at myself and looked at my own life I have been able to see the patience and love God has for me as I have come to see more and more the places that I have offended God and the things that drive a wedge between He and I. When I focus on my flaws and the places that I need to change, it seems that everyone else’s sins move to the background and are pretty easy for me to overlook because mine are so great. The words of Peter highlighted above are usually interpreted in such a way that God’s compassion is to be seen as an umbrella idea encompassing all of humanity. In one sense I guess they are. But when looked at more deeply and more personally, they are also words that demonstrate God’s love and compassion for each one of us as individuals; you and me, right where we are.

If you want to know God this coming year in a deeper way than you ever have before, start by being honest with God about you and forget about what everyone around you is doing. Don’t worry about their sin, about their shortfalls, about how bad they have been. Just concentrate on you and your life before God. After all God is patient and God is kind, not wanting any to perish or even spend another day separated from Him. We draw close to God by using more of our time reading the Bible and asking God to speak in a way that we can hear. If you need some help with that I have a great resource (passed on to me by someone else) that will quite literally change your life. All that you need to do is let me know you want it and it is yours.

Folks it is a new year and a new time to call out to the God of the universe. Give God the space and the opportunity and there is no doubt that He will help you build a relationship with Him that you have never known before. In this coming year God calls on each of us to be bold enough and honest enough with Him to repent not only of individual sins, but patterns of sin that have held you in the same dry place for a long, long time. If you are bold enough to really want to know God, there is no doubt that God will make Himself known to you.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen


DECEMBER 2014

Peace

Can you hear the carols yet?

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening.
A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight;
walking in a winter wonderland.

Or maybe:

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos....

The songs and the season is upon us, isn't it?  As the world is now in full swing of telling us that “Christmas time’s a comin.”  I am a little afraid that I come across like the Mr. Grinch from Dr. Seuss’ children’s book How the Grinch Stole Christmas!  This time of year; because Christmas is not always my favorite time.  For one thing, at the beginning of November when the deeply discounted plastic Jack-O-Lanterns and the smiling plastic Santa's are on display at Walmart and Kroger at the same time it just does something to me.  It stirs in me a protest that says that Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin and the shepherds of Luke chapter 2 should simply not hold hands!  Such scenes also leave me more than a little suspicious about my ability to buy more Christmas at K-mart. I just have such a hard time during this and of the year knowing how I should act and what my attitude should be.  Andy Williams tells me again and again, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

But somehow I am still not convinced, which ultimately leads to guilt.  After all, I am a Christian and Christmas is about good cheer and the Savior, right?

I wished it were.  But culture works to convince us each year that somehow we should experience extreme happiness and joy because of all that we have and all that we have the opportunities to give. While at the same time the same culture piles on the guilt because there are so many others who are not as fortunate as we.

This year I am going to try something different.  I really am.  I am going to try to look for the Savior in this Advent and Christmas season.  After all, Advent does mean the arrival or the coming of the Savior, pointing to the in-breaking of God into the world where you and I now reside.  What an exciting moment in human history when God became flesh to dwell among us.  Israel had been promised for hundreds of years that the Savior was coming and yet they had almost stopped looking. I don’t want to make the same mistake by not experiencing the Savior when He comes so very near in so many ways.  That does not mean that I am not going to shop for gifts for loved ones.  It also does not mean that I am not going to give in the places that I feel the leading of the Spirit of God. What it does mean though is that I am not going to let those things cause me miss the present of the presence of the Savior this year.  The Scriptures say to us, Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  This year I want to hear the words of the angels myself, and I pray that you come to know the Savior more than ever this year. 

Allen


NOVEMBER 2014

When it was first mentioned that October 2014 would be the 10 year anniversary of the present home of Kresge UMC, I have to admit that I was not really excited about the prospects of planning or participating in such a day. To me it felt like being invited to the birthday or anniversary party of a friend of a friend. My reasoning was that I was not here when the idea for the “new church” was birthed and nurtured. I was not here for the purchasing of the land or the choosing of the architect. I was not here for any of the capital campaigns, the barbecues, or any of the money raising activities for that matter. I was not here to see the grading of the site. I was not here to see the first slab poured, or the walls going up, or the parking lot being paved. I was not here for the walkover from West Avenue or the consecration service. I was not here for any of the excitement or the hoopla. Simply put, I felt like a “Johnny come lately.” What memories could I contribute? Or, what might I add to such a special day?

That is pretty much where my mind, and truthfully my heart was when I thought of the 10-year anniversary day. That is until I began to ponder, and yes pray about the day. It was in that process that I began to see that if being here “when it all began” was the criteria for participation, then none of us really had a place at the table or a stake in the matter. Because all of us are “Johnny come latelys” to the Kresge story; and none of us were here on the first day. I have a friend who lives in Franklin County in the northeast part of the state and one day he and I were talking and killing time and I asked the question, “have you lived here all of your life?” He replied, “No, but I got here as quick as I could.” That is where we all are in the Kresge UMC story and legacy. We all “got here as quick as we could” and are here at this time and this place to make our mark and become a part of a future celebration of the beginning and on-going ministry of Kresge UMC.

The Kresge that is today does not too much resemble the first meetings that were held in the house “behind the old Goodyear ball field” as Mr. Howard Jackson shared. It is not the same ministry that cleaned up a greasy knittin’ mill so more people could get in for preaching and worship, either. It is not the original frame West Avenue Methodist Church which was built in 1918, or the brick building of 1950 that is so fondly remembered and later became known as Anna M. Kresge Memorial United Methodist Church. Instead, today Kresge is the church on Booger Hollow Road which houses scouting programs, Kresge Kids, adult Bible Studies, outreach in the community, takes part in the bedding program and takes care of special needs as they arise. In our faithfulness and acts of love we have much to offer God and a lot of “good” to feel good about.

The Apostle Paul, as he was nearing the end of his life, wrote to Timothy, his young partner in ministry, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”The writer of Hebrews challenged his audience, and us today, “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”Sunday as we thought together and looked around it was easy to see the marks of the early ministry on what we do today. Ministries meant to share the love and hope of Jesus Christ with the world at the place and time we are planted. Ministry and Christian service is not for the faint-at-heart though. Things do not always turnout as we hope they might; sometimes we don’t get our way, sometimes church mates and people that we care deeply for turn and walk away from commitments disappointing us deeply and leaving us with even more of the load to carry. It is sometimes so easy to be down and even give-up. But then a part of our legacy and our hope is remembered, like it was Sunday. And, our faith is renewed that this is our place and this is our time and that in God’s strength we will persevere and in faith finish the race that God has set before us.

eople of God, be encouraged in that the same God who ministered through the people in the old knittin’ mill, in the McCarty Settlement House, and on West Avenue is the same God who is with us today. And God is using us, to make memories today that will be used to encourage future generations who minister in the name of God and Kresge UMC to make a difference in our world through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness to what God is doing in our hearts and lives. We are not at the beginning, neither are we at the end, but today we are living into our moment as the Kresge UMC legacy continues. Thanks be to God.


OCTOBER 2014

It is Well With My Soul

I am usually very settled as I sit to write this article each month. In it I try to share insights concerning things that I have observed in the faith or the world over the past month, and things that I hope give you a sounding board or a conversation starter for observations that you are making yourself concerning your part of the world and the Kingdom of God. This month I have been a little more scattered than usual, there have been several circumstances that have garnered my attention and things that I have seen happen around them that I wanted to address. But this month, I have decided that I will save those thoughts until another time, and share with you something else.

If I were to ask any one of you, I think that it would be safe to say that you would tell me that the world is in a mess. That the politics of the day are horrible and discouraging, that the economy down on our level is as bad if not worse than we have ever seen it and that personal responsibility is on the decline along with true empathy, caring, and concern. It can be, and maybe often times is, discouraging to see things spiral out of our control and have things happen in our lives and in the lives of family and friends that leave us feeling more like victims, rather than people in charge of our own lives and our own destiny.

You may have heard his story before, but I wanted to offer you a few thoughts from the life of a man (and his wife) who knew what it meant to hurt and to lose much, and maybe feel like victims. His name was Horatio G. Spafford. Mr. Spafford was born in 1828 and later moved to Chicago. He studied law and became very proficient in its practice, so much so that he even began to teach jurisprudence in his new home. With his wealth from practicing law, Mr. Spafford became a real estate investor and speculator purchasing many properties in downtown Chicago. In 1871 the great fire that destroyed much of the Chicago business district claimed all of Mr. Spafford’s properties there, the losses were devastating. Mr. Spafford and his wife managed though, continuing to enjoy and raise their 4 young girls.

Perhaps to entertain themselves with new scenery, and maybe get his mind off of things for a while the Safford’s decided that they would take a family trip to England in 1873. Mr. Spafford had some business that held him for a few weeks, so he sent his wife and girls on ahead with the promise that he would join them soon. That was not to be however, as the ship that the family was on, many days out at sea, collided with another ship and sank almost immediately. All of the children were lost, and his wife was saved only by a miracle as her unconscious body was found lying across a piece of floating debris. The telegram that followed was heart wrenching, it simply said, “saved alone.”

Mr. Spafford boarded the next ship leaving New York so that he and his wife could comfort one another in their moment of loss. At a time, which had been calculated by the ship’s captain, Mr. Spafford was called to the bridge of the ship and told that they were now passing the place where his daughters had been lost in the shipwreck. Mr. Spafford thanked the captain and returned to his cabin, for a moment he sat, and then he pinned these words .

”W hen peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul. It is well, it is well, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

As you probably know, there are three more verses to that very famous song, each with the message of hope in the face of difficult times. I have found that music and hymns of the faith have a way of speaking to the very deepest places in our hearts. This is true of the songs in our hymnbooks and the songs found in The Scriptures, known commonly as the book of Psalms. Some places that might help to make the Bible a source of strength when life is closing in are as follows: when we are discouraged, Psalms 23 and 42; when searching for refuge, Psalms 46 and 91; when searching for sure help, Psalms 121, 130, and 146. In addition to these, there are many more places that we can find strength and help in our times of need. The road may be hard to travel right now and there may not be much to make us smile. But the world that we live is more that what we see. God is with us, God cares for us, and His greatest desire is for us to rest the full load of our troubles upon Him, when we are able to do that we will surely find that it is well with our souls.

Peace and Blessings, Allen


SEPTEMBER 2014

What does it mean to (really) have a relationship with God?

I realized as soon as I typed that question that everyone who will read it already has an opinion on this matter. We know that God's people don't cuss, drink or chew, and don't date girls or boys that do. We know that God's people go to church on Sundays and sometimes mid-week. We know that we serve God in some way. Most likely you can think of another item or two that at least makes your list of what it means when you say that you have a relationship with God. And, it is wonderful that we think on such things, that we try to have an idea of what it means to be in relationship with God and live it out in our lives.

I think though that our doer attitude and mentality gets in the way sometimes, though. That it is too easy to condemn ourselves when we feel that we have failed, or wring our shoulders out of the socket patting ourselves on the back when we believe that we have accomplished that which should earn us smiley faces on our spiritual report cards. I think in all of the evaluation and metrics and hullabaloo that we interject into our lives before God that we miss that which should be first and that which should be most important.

What am I talking about? I am talking about simply being with God. Not looking for ways to impress God or impress our church mates. Not look for ways that we seem o-so-spiritual or like a next level Christian. But we look for ways to have a deep and an authentic relationship with the God of this universe, the keeper of our souls, the only One who really knows us inside and out and yet loves us anyway.

I have probably shared this with you before, but some of my favorite images from Scripture come from the book of Genesis. The first is in chapter 3 and verses 8-9. The Message translation helps us remember that moment this way, “ 8 When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze, the Man and his Wife hid in the trees of the garden, hid from God called to the Man: ‘Where are you?’"

Now I know theological types will quickly point a boney finger to this passage and those words and see in them the fall of humanity and the first time that human beings were afraid of God. Without a doubt I have to say that assertion is correct. But for a moment notice the other part of the text, the part that talks about what God is doing. It says that God was walking in the Garden in the cool of the day calling to Adam and Eve that He might find them and spend time with them. I know that even before God calls their names that He already knows what Adam and Eve have done. But for a moment set that idea and that day aside, and think about God walking through the Garden all the days before when God would stop by to pay Adam and Eve a visit. I can't help it, but the picture that comes to mind is a shady front porch with rockers and a swing, and good friends chatting and reminiscing the late afternoon into darkness; just good friends being together.

Another favorite image that comes to mind are the words of Genesis 5 that describe the relationship between God and a man named Enoch. In a chapter that is mostly so-and-so begat so-and-so and he lived this many years and had other sons and daughters there is a rather captivating image: 21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. 24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. I know there are very words there to help us, but can't you just see God and Enoch walking down a county road or together on a hike through the wood? They are together in fellowship and friendship enjoying one another's company.

I heard this little story once about a Sunday School teacher who spoke of Enoch and how he walked with God and then he was no more because God took him away. He said he did not understand those words completely, but knew they meant something special. A little boy in the teacher's class raised his hand and said that he understood. The teacher replied, “Please tell me.” The little boy said, “Enoch loved God and God loved Enoch and they took long walks together. One day they were walking and talking and they came closer to God's house than Enoch's, so God said, „Enoch, just come on home with me‟ and he did.” I don't know if that is precisely the meaning of those verses, but I sure like the interpretation.

It is easy to be a doer, and it easy is to try to measure our spirituality by the good that we do. But, God never meant for it to be that way. Instead, He wants to know you and He wants that You know Him first, deeply and intimately. It is out of that love and that relationship that everything else will follow.

Peace & Blessings,

Allen

 


AUGUST 2014

Is this you?

If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good! But there are preconditions: A leader must be well-thought-of, committed to his wife, cool and collected, accessible, and hospitable. He must know what he's talking about, not be overfond of wine, not pushy but gentle, not thin-skinned, not money-hungry. He must handle his own affairs well, attentive to his own children and having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God's church? He must not be a new believer, lest the position go to his head and the Devil trip him up. Outsiders must think well of him, or else the Devil will figure out a way to lure him into his trap.

The same goes for those who want to be servants in the church: serious, not deceitful, not too free with the bottle, not in it for what they can get out of it. They must be reverent before the mystery of the faith, not using their position to try to run things. Let them prove themselves first. If they show they can do it, take them on. No exceptions are to be made for women—same qualifications: serious, dependable, not sharp-tongued, not overfond of wine. Servants in the church are to be committed to their spouses, attentive to their own children, and diligent in looking after their own affairs. “Those who do this servant work will come to be highly respected, a real credit to this Jesus-faith.” (I Timothy 3:1-13 – The Message)

Over the next couple of months, the members of the Committee on Lay Leadership will again begin to nominate people who will provide leadership in particular areas of our church for the calendar year 2015. During this time, we will encounter people who feel they have a calling to particular jobs because their natural abilities are the same as those certain positions seem to require. There will also be others who would like to serve or who are willing to serve, but are not quite sure where they might fit in. In either case, as the pastor and as members of the Committee on Lay Leadership meet we will be looking for and praying for the people and structures that will enhance the ministry of our church and build up the body of Christ in places that God calls us to.

“What criteria will you use?,” some might wonder. As the Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend and helper in the faith Timothy, he gave the words that I have printed for you above to help Timothy as he led the church at Ephesus; they stand as criteria for us today as well. In the above two paragraphs I think some of the things that Paul writes are givens and have no real application for us in that all of the people that we have to choose from are well thought of, committed to their spouses, and not overfond of wine. But there are other criteria mentioned here that are vitality important, cool and collected, accessible, hospitable, must know what they are talking about (informed), not pushy but gentle, not thin-skinned. In looking at these, what we notice is there are characteristics which are desirable as leaders and committee people in a certain area listen, interact with, as well as explain the thought process of the committee of which they are a part. It never does any good to be a bully, or a hot-head, or put people off. Rather, what is needed in dealing with the work of a committee is a person who is well informed, a person who is not pushy or overbearing but gentle in their dealings with others, also a person who is not thinned skinned, but willing to explain and sometimes maybe re-explain, and even listen again when someone has a concern.

The second set of criteria that we see in these words of Paul are words that have to do with intentions and the condition of a leader’s heart. They are, not being deceitful, not in it for what they can get out of it, not using their position to try to run things. It is so hard when we offer ourselves for service to not be passionate about our vision and our beliefs.If we are not passionate about what we believe then we are probably will not make very good committee member. On the other hand, if our methods are not respectable and not Christ-like, or we use our position to get something for ourselves, or we try to force our opinions and our ways on everyone else regardless of the consequences for the church or other people involved, then such actions are regrettable and there is no room for that kind of leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ.

Our Church and our God needs people who are servants of Christ at heart, and people who want to serve above being served. Pray that those people can be found when the committee meets, and that you are one of those people.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen

 


JULY 2014

Together....

Well, we made it through our first year together. I don’t know about you, but from where I have been sitting things have been up and down, and a time or two there have been some pretty close calls. But we made it, and we are together, at least for another year.

In our time together so far, I have noticed some things about you and us that are sometimes overlooked and often undervalued. The first of them is there are some really fine members and regular attendees in and associated with the Anna Kresge Memorial United Methodist Church. Sometimes the quality of and the wonderful things that happen among us for good and for God goes unnoticed or are not recognized because of other things that are distracting and seem to garner the lion’s share of our attention. For instance the Kresge Kids ministry, I wish I had the total number of kids that were welcomed into our church last year on Wednesday evenings to be fed a meal, instructed in the faith, and in some way saw the love of Jesus in the eyes and actions of the adults who gave so much of themselves so that program could flourish. I also wish that I had the number of backpacks that were prepared by the United Methodist Women, the number of times that beds were purchased for the less fortunate in our community, the special items that were funded by the United Methodist Men, the other areas that money was raised and donated for, the number of prayers that were lifted-up for needs that came to the churchby ourprayer ministry team, the number of people who were picked up on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening by our daring van drivers, the hours and days spent preparing for and putting on the barbecue, and thehours spent working at the Samaritan House and the soup kitchen. And, that list does not include the hours and dollars spent in mission and ministry in Nicaragua, Cluij and Sibiu Romania, at Red Bird Missions in Kentucky, nor the hours that are spent year round by the wonderful souls that come to clean, pull weeds, trim shrubbery, place pine straw, and make repairs to the building. Not because it makes them famous, but simply they want to provide those ministries as servants to the church. Folks, we have a lot of wonderful things happening and God is surely pleased by them. Yet highlighting the good does not relieve us from looking for areas where we can grow. If I am not mistaken we had 80 people in church last Sunday, a good crowd, but we have seats for twice that many . I am sure, and I have heard some of you talking recently, about how just in the areas right around our campus, there are people who might visit and maybe become a part of our family if we would just ask. There are people that you know and see on a regular basis who would love to be a part of a church family like this, if we were bold enough to ask. In the coming year I hope that we will together invite our community to come and see what we are about. In our coming year together I hope that we will also be open that our hearts be healed. Some of us are holding on to the past today and not embracing the present, let’s let this be the year that we let the past fade away so that we can see how bright our future can really be.

Folks, we are the people. I repeat, we are the people of God and there is much to be thankful for and much to look forward to in this church of ours. Let’s pray that this is the year that we do not miss a single blessing God has for our church or our community.

Peace and Blessings,

Allen

 


JUNE 2014

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE

It is funny sometimes when you remember something and that thing becomes stuck in your thoughts. I was “having my quiet time” as Christians sometimes call it a little while back and the writer said something that reminded me of some very famous song lyrics.

I will share a few lines and I am sure you will be able to finish the rest. “All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.”

Of course you recognize these words as the chorus from a tune by the same title written in 1967 by John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles. When asked why they had written such a melody, Brian Epstein manager of the world famous band, said the group had been asked to write a song whose message could be universally understood and those now famous words were the result. I cannot help but wonder, if perhaps those men had not been peaking over the shoulder of the Apostle Paul as they wrote.

The great preacher and missionary, approximately 1900 years earlier, had been inspired by God to make the same message plain to the world in which he lived through his letter to the Church at Corinth. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. If does not dishonor others, it is not self- seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”(I Cor. 13:4-5) The chapter and its description of the attributes of love is much longer. But, I suspect if we simply worked on these few ideas a while our world would be a better place. Heck, our home and even our church would be better places if we could simply lead with love.

In his book "Love or Perish" , Smiley Blanton gives these thoughts as to the importance of unqualified love.

“Without love, hopes perish.

Without love, dreams and creativity perish.

Without love, families and churches perish.

Without love, friendships perish.

Without love, the intimacies of romance perish.

Without love, the desire to go on living can perish.”

So often we find ourselves sure that others have gone beyond the boundaries of our love. We are sure their inconsiderate and hurtful acts disqualify them from anything but acceptable social civility. How can that be true if the God who taught us to love is willing to continue to love us with all of our faults and frailties? So next time, before you act, before you speak, before you begin to rehearse the wrong another has done, be reminded of the

love that God has shown for you and then use that as a pattern for your actions. “All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.”

Peace & Blessings,

Allen

 

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