Christmas 2018

Nostalgia – A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
Well, it’s that time. The time when the calendar year as the word knows it winds down and the Christian calendar year begins with Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “coming” or “visit”. The season of Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. I was unaware of this until I started college. I came from a church tradition that never mentioned Advent. In fact, prior to my meeting Annette and coming into the Methodist church, I knew nothing of a liturgical calendar or “special seasons.” Sure, there was great emphasis on Christmas and Easter, but no paraments, no hanging of the greens, no emphasis on the four Sundays preceding Christmas. Today, seminaries do a much better job training and equipping pastors across ecumenical boundaries. As a result, Advent is better understood today; at least in a general sense. Still, God’s timing is perfect; and I realize the time and place I learned about Advent is one of the reasons Christmas is so special for me today. I will always appreciate how a “new awareness” of Advent brought my place in God’s economy into a new light.
What does that last sentence mean? It means an awareness of Advent gave me a different perspective on Christmas; a new perspective on what it means to have a savior both corporately and personally. It helped me put “things” together as a whole. At the very least, it reminded me that God had and has a plan. A plan for you, for me and for our church. A plan for this lost world. And no matter how crazy and hopeless things might sometimes seem, the season of Advent can reorient us and put us back on track with that plan; His plan. And for me? By the time Advent comes into view, I almost always need that reorientation. I need to take stock and refocus. And I need to buckle down and remember what Christmas is and sometimes most importantly, what Christmas is not. For me, this often involves a bit of nostalgia.
You see, although the knowledge of a liturgical Advent season was absent, I was fortunate enough growing up as a child that family and church instilled a sense of wonder for the reality of Christmas beyond gifts and Santa. It’s hard to explain, but again I use the word wonder. I can give you a few synonyms. My memories are of being in awe; of having a sense of expectation (beyond toys). It was marvelous, and it was often magical. Looking back, I wonder if some of what I felt was not because God placed people around me who infected me with the wonder of the season. One of those people was my Great Uncle Uncle Bill loved Christmas. He never told me that in words, but I sensed it. He loved the preparation. He loved the tree, the trimming, the food, the family. He especially loved giving gifts. And at some point, every Christmas he would put on Christmas music and we would sit and look at the tree for what seemed like hours. One thing is for sure, it was infectious. I believe uncle Bill’s love of Christmas infected a great portion of our family. He never preached. He never pushed. But his joy was evident. That’s a family memory.
From church, I remember a Christmas eve service; the sanctuary dark except for scattered candles, the hush of reverence and then the song O Holy night was sung by Katherine Baird. It still stands as my favorite childhood memory of music in the church. The Holy Spirit moved that night. I can’t adequately describe what I felt, but my hair stood up and I knew that God was real, that my understanding of Christmas true meaning was limited and yet the sense of awe, of wonder and of peace enveloped me. That memory, when allowed remains as fresh today as it did forty-eight years ago. Wow! I hope you too have some of those memories. I also hope you desire to rediscover them this Advent.
This Advent, I pray we can be nostalgic for those memories that heighten our desire to rediscover and give Christmas it’s due. I desire those memories anew for myself and for my family. I pray them for you too. I pray them for our church. Moreover, I pray the people we encounter will sense our joy; and I pray that somehow the power of the Holy spirit will envelop them with an awareness of the reality that God came down at Christmas. That he left Heaven’s best to come to this world to be the Savior of us all!
Annette and I pray you have an enlightened Advent and a Merry Christmas!
Pastor Jim

Pastor’s Corner – February

A Picture Worth a 1000 Words

The picture to the left speaks volumes. That’s Michael in the picture. He’s the grandson of some friends of ours from a previous appointment. Michael is helping his granddad prepare the palm fronds from last year’s Palm Sunday. In our tradition, we save those palm fronds, and when Ash Wednesday approaches, we strip, burn and crush the leaves into a powder that we mix with oil and water. We use the resulting paste for the putting on of ashes during our Ash Wednesday observance.

I’m reasonably sure Michael didn’t know the history or the idea of fasting or giving something up in representation of our sin during Lent; nor does he likely know the scripture the early church incorporated from Mark’s Gospel, “Repent and Believe!” for Ash Wednesday. Moreover, I’m quite sure he doesn’t remember us talking about how instead of giving up a token item like fast food or TV shows for Lent, we should seriously consider by what means we might be rid of the things that produce sin in our lives. Still, that picture of Michael enjoying the moment with his grandfather reminds me of something important that Psalm 100 verse 2 should teach us.

Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. (NIV)

Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. (KJV)

I find it interesting how different versions of the Bible intertwine the words worship and serve. When we look up the Hebrew words for worship or serve we get the word aw-bad. In this instance, aw-bad means to work. One of the key Bible dictionaries I often consult says no matter the sense or usage in various interpretations of this verse, the words worship and serve are to be rendered as “work”. This in turn reminds me how in a theological sense the Liturgy or order we follow in worship is referenced as “the work of the people”.

And here’s the point. Even though Michael didn’t really understand the why of what he’s doing in the picture, he’s still in the moment doing his best. Don’t miss the implication. With only the simple joy a child might derive, Michael is willing to serve without needing to understand why. I wonder if perhaps inwardly in his “child spirit” Michael is practicing an aspect of worship that many of us rarely experience; or quite honestly have forgotten how to experience. As I look at the picture, I’m reminded that we too might find ourselves doing “kingdom stuff” where in the moment we’re unable to know or understand the why behind the Holy Spirit’s urging. But just like in the picture of Michael, when we approach God’s work with a willing spirit, we end up finding joy in the moment.

When it comes to this notion of serving God, Paul talks about a sense of wisdom that accompanies the leading of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 16 he writes: “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

Sometimes, when I manage to keep “me” out of the mix, I once again experience the sheer joy of being led by the Holy Spirit. And in so doing, I recapture the understanding that this is enough; that via The Spirit’s prompting, simply following God’s lead is enough. What about you?

In the life of following Christ, there is joy for the journey; joy in the simplicity of being present, joy from being in the moment, joy in knowing we are on the path set before us by Jesus himself!

But…. Sometimes there’s a problem. When the time comes for many of us to follow or be present, we’re prone to say something like “I never hear God speak”, or “He never speaks to me.” “He never asks me to do anything.” “That’s not meant for me.” Over the years I’ve learned that when I’m not willing to listen directly, God will often get my attention by speaking through someone or something else. Conversely, I’m sure the more I listen, the more He speaks. I just think we have to be willing. And we have to be in a place where we’re able. And sometimes…… perhaps most times, the children among us do a much better job that the adults.

Getting back to the picture, I’m not sure if God did or didn’t speak to Michael, that He whispered in his ear, “enjoy this moment with your grandfather”, or “do this for me”. That picture of Michael stirring the ashes is a blessing to me. It’s a great reminder of how when God calls or prompts or moves me, I need to step forward and know the joy.

Here’s the bottom line. I pray that one day someone in Michael’s family will show him that picture and talk to him about how the ashes he crushed, stirred and burned became a symbol many of us did and will take on to demonstrate our desire to give up the reality of sin in our lives as we prepared for the Easter event. And then, perhaps in the simplicity of the moment, we too will pray for and seek to find our joy for living through the leading of the Holy Spirit. I pray for Michael then and for us today. I pray the Holy spirit will bring to each of us a new season of belonging to Christ in both the profound and not so profound moments of our lives; those moments where Jesus speaks, and those moments where we listen.

God Bless!

Pastor Jim

Pastor’s Corner – Charlottesville and the Like

I’ve lost sleep the last week trying to organize and come to grips with my thoughts regarding recent protests. I imagine many of you have too. Problem is, I spent part of last week putting those thoughts on paper. By the time I finished, I had page after page of something between a rant and a sermon. After throwing it away. I’m left with this.

What happened last week in Charlottesville and what has happened since is as old as time. This is by no means said to imply that I’m okay with any of the violence we’ve witnessed the last week. And while you’re entitled to scoff, I see great symmetry between what has happened over the last ten days and the account of original sin from the Bible. In that story, our story, Adam and Eve blame their desire to usurp God on a serpent, the devil, Satan …. Whatever you want to call it. It’s called evil. The excuse itself was evil. Little has changed.

What I have witnessed of late is this:

If we don’t like something or someone, we believe we have every right to return to our adolescence and pitch a temper tantrum. And during my temper tantrum, I will display the character of an undisciplined child. The means I am entitled to speak (scream and shout) or act upon any impulse I so desire. If I disagree with you, YOU need to shut up and hold your piece. While you’re at it, keep your opinion to yourself. It matters not; FOR I WILL NOT HEAR IT! In the process, and in spite of anything you might say or do, no matter the cost, I will impose my will over you. Should you resist? I’ll brand you intolerant.

A bit dramatic? Not really. Back in 1998 Josh McDowell wrote a book many panned called The New Tolerance which pretty much said we would find ourselves right where we are at this moment in America.

I mean, does anyone else find it ironic that those who have gathered to protest of late seem totally oblivious of their own actions? What I mean is that no matter the side or stance, in nearly every instance, the way both sides keep choosing to protest goes against the very reason they claim to be protesting to begin with. In other words, how does one protest hate with hate? How does one claim to be against hate while spreading hate at the same time? This is both illogical and irrational. It makes no sense.

A moment ago, I mentioned original sin or the fall of humanity? When Adam and Eve willingly chose to do the ONE thing God said was forbidden, they went right to it! Then, when God asked Adam “What have you done?”, Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. And since Satan (evil) has a thing for power. It’s safe to say, Satan blamed God. What a classic example of something we recently talked about in worship. (Passing the Buck) Again, scoff if you like, you can even call the fall of humanity and original sin a Fairy Tale. But from where I sit, through whatever lens we try to view it, that story sure looks and sounds familiar. It’s kind of like we’re trapped in a lopsided version of Groundhog Day.

So I ask, why is it so easy to see hate, recognize it and denounce it, but then, in the next breath still manage to perpetuate it?
An overarching theme from the Bible clearly teaches that we do this because we are broken. Every single one of us. (Romans 3:23) Ironically, a symptom of our brokenness is also blindness. Blindness to one’s own self-promoting ambition and eventual self-destruction.

What do I propose? I believe the church needs to speak up. Not by protesting; but with prayer! The church needs to step up. Instead of sitting back on our laurels, we need to do everything in our power to reach those around us with The Good News. A lot of us claim the name Christian; but we’re too passive. I mean, it’s kind of embarrassing. People against bigotry protest. People against the ghost of slavery protest. People against any form of the Nazi movement in America protest. People against the confederacy, statues and Neapolitan ice cream protest. Christians? We pretty much look solemn, shake our heads and assume the I just ate a rotten lemon look.

The point? Most all of us know injustice when we see it. When Jesus saw it, He did something profound. In the face of injustice, He cared. In the face of hate, He loved.

The preacher guy in me is tempted to list a half page of Bible citations. Instead of doing that, I’m going to leave just one plus a challenge. If you believe. If you live today, really live because of the Grace of Jesus Christ, ask God to speak through you.

Hebrews 10:22-25 (The Message)
22-25 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

~Pastor Jim King

Pastor’s Corner – Little is Much …. When God is In It

The move is done! Sort of… The boxes are for the most part unpacked. This means things are getting back to normal. Normal for me means an opportunity to read. So, a few days ago I ran across an article by Thom Rainer. Rainer writes a lot about the state of the church, so I usually enjoy his perspective. Coincidentally, the article was entitled, “When Is It Time for a Pastor to Leave a Church?”. I was curious; so, I read on.

Some of the reasons listed for why pastors decide to move were: “A strong sense of call to go to another church”, “I became weary” “In my current church, I no longer felt like I was a good match”, “Family needs”, “I’ve been hurt”, etc., etc.

As I pondered the reasoning given by pastors, I realized ministers and church members alike tend to move (or change churches) for many of the same reasons.

The reality is, a lot of Methodist Minister’s move, and a lot of members change churches for all the wrong reasons. To explain my thought process, let me first share why I believe United Methodist Minister’s move. Sure, we may get a call from a District Superintendent, maybe even the Bishop. Or we might ask to move, or a church might decide it’s the right time for a new pastor. Yes, all of this and more happens. But I believe the only real reason a pastor should move is because of the leading of the Holy Spirit. I believe this is the way God intends it; and I believe this is what John Wesley had in mind and would have desired for Methodism. Yes, we have all this hierarchy that makes decisions, but I believe somehow in the mystery of it all, God is still central in the process. If I thought otherwise, it would literally be time to move on.

In a prior appointment, I served with a Lay Leader that said the same about church members leaving the church. In essence, she said if we go church shopping, or church hopping, or minister following, or family following, we’ve done a disservice to the Holy Spirit. In other words, did we allow God to be involved in the process that precipitated the move? More often than not, the answer is no.

Over and over, I’ve asked members moving their membership or changing churches, have you prayed about this? And I never cease to be amazed that almost all tell me they didn’t think about praying or trying to discern what God wanted before they acted. We truly tend to move for all the wrong reasons.

Ministers make this mistake, Pastor Parish teams make this mistake, churches make this mistake. Church members make this mistake. Every denomination I know is capable and likely has made this mistake. The question is why?

If we moved or sought change every time we or someone else questions our motives or calling, or because we grew weary, or because the honeymoon was over, or we no longer feel like the match is perfect, or any of a thousand other reasons, none of us will likely be around to see true ministry happen.

The fact is, we all have doubts. There will be seasons of life where we are tired, where life events nearly break us, times when the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Been there, thought that and done it. And it’s all a lie of the devil.

Make no mistake, moving forward under tough circumstances in this life is hard. And yet, we who call ourselves Christian do it. Why? Because we believe and trust in a power much greater than the church itself, a district, a conference, or ourselves. We do it because we’ve learned that it is in the valleys and the tough times of life that we learn to depend on God; and in the process, He grows us and changes us.

Because I believe God is in our midst during any season of change, I expect and believe the time Annette and I spend with you will mold, shape and change us for the better, I pray the same will be true for our FUMC Valdese family.

Isaiah 43:18-19a, 2 Corinthians 5:16-18

In Christ,
Pastor Jim