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My Journey to Ordination

Recently in worship we celebrated the Holy Trinity, that divine relationship that is unity in di- versity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons, only together revealing the fullness of who God is. This is our model for living. Each of us is uniquely created in the image of God, and yet it is only when all of our individual images are joined together as one Body in Christ that we reveal the full Image of God. We, too, are a sacred relationship. We are unity in diversity.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently, as I have prepared for my ordination. Much of my work has revolved around telling stories from my time in ministry. For instance, how my experience of ministry has shaped my understanding of the Trinity. Where and how I have seen the Holy Spirit at work. What grace looks like. And repentance. And sanctification.

So I wrote about you. I wrote about us, about our lives together in this congregation and in this community. I told stories of casual conversations and experiences in worship, of Great Days of Service and quiet days in hospitals. I wrote about how all those doctrines I read about in seminary actually live and breathe in Christ’s holy church.

And I was (and am) awed. Make no mistake, brothers and sisters—together, we really do reveal God in the world. As one body full of diverse gifts and passions, we are the very Image of God, living and loving and serving right here in Western North Carolina.

This month, my ordination journey will reach its completion. And I am humbled and overjoyed by how many of us will be together to celebrate. But promise me, when we all stand together, that you’ll take a moment to look around and let yourself be awed. See what I have been privileged to see—that through this family of faith, through this united group of diverse and gifted disciples, God shines through.

It is an honor to serve among you. May we always be united in diversity, showing God in the world.

Yours in Christ,

Lauren

Practicing ” Radical Hospitality”

PRACTICING “RADICAL HOSPITALITY!”

In so many ways, we are blessed to be a part of an active, caring, mission-minded church. Our giving for the general fund and mission causes was up during 2015, and we also saw a significant increase in worship attendance. Also, every Sunday, for some time now we have had at least one first-time guest or family arriving to worship with us… and many of those have continued to worship with us! Our guests tell us that we have a “welcoming and friendly church.”

That’s good! That’s what we want. But we know that we can always do better. Hospitality is so important for every church; however, friendliness and hospitality are just the minimum of what we can do. We want to do more. We want to practice “radical hospitality.”

For over a year now, our Radical Hospitality team has been discussing the various steps we as a church can take to “up our game” as a radical hospitality congregation. At the top of the list is this: No person or family should attend our church on Sunday morning and NOT be welcomed and spoken to… multiple times. And, by the way, that isn’t just the job of our greeters and ushers, it is the job of all of us.

I hear it all the time. So, what if someone we greet is already a member? This is my answer: If we see someone we don’t know, it doesn’t matter if they are guests or members. Either way, we should get to know them, if only as a way to build up this Body of Christ. Our job and calling is to welcome everyone. We need to wear our name tags (and if you have misplaced yours, call the church office and Jamie Lancaster will make you a new one).

There is something else you can do when it comes to radical hospitality—you can invite people to your church. If you know someone that might be looking for a church, maybe a newcomer to the area or a co- worker, invite them to attend worship with you or some special event here at church. Isn’t that the best outreach we can share?

In the Love of Christ

Mike

Living the Resurrection

 

“Do You Love Me?”

A whole week had passed since the risen Christ last appeared to his disciples, and they were begin- ning to get a bit restless. Jesus had come to them twice now—first on the afternoon of resurrection day and then again a week later when Thomas was with the group. Since then, they had been struggling to under- stand what it meant or what they must do. So, finally, Peter up and says “I’m going fishing.” And the others said, “We’ll go with you.”

So they went back to a place that was familiar, a place where they had many good memories of their time with Jesus. They went to the Sea of Galilee. They went fishing.

Now much of the fishing in those days was actually done at night. Fishermen would light torches on their boats hoping to attract the fish and then they would cast out their nets. Peter and the others fished all night, laboring with those heavy nets, and they caught nothing! As dawn came, they were exhausted, dis- couraged, and definitely ready to call it quits. That’s when they heard a faint voice calling from the beach. In the dim early morning light, they could’nt see who it was; but the man was telling them to cast out one more time. They did, and to their amazement, there were so many fish in the net they could barely haul it in. Suddenly, they realized who was on the beach. “It is the Lord!” John exclaimed. And Peter was so ex- cited that he jumped out of the boat and swam to shore.

What follows is really the main point of the lesson. Jesus has prepared breakfast for them. After eating, Jesus takes Peter aside and asks him a question; indeed, he asks him the same question three times: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?” Peter answers each time with a bit more emphasis: “Yes, Lord…you know that I love you.”

Then Jesus would say, “Feed my sheep…tend my lambs…feed my sheep.”

Many scholars agree that this was the risen Christ’s way of “fixing priorities.” It is as if he was say- ing to his followers that the way we prove our love for Him will always be revealed by the fruit that comes out of our faith. And the greatest fruit of all is love—love for Christ, but also love for our neighbors.

When Jesus said “Feed my sheep,” I believe he meant it in the most literal and direct way—we are to reach out to the “least of these” in care and compassion, which is the best way of all to share Christ. But I believe Jesus also had something else in mind when he said “Feed my sheep…tend my lambs.” I think he meant this in a spiritual way, too. You see, as we strive to love Christ and others, we also grow in our faith. We grow closer to the living Christ. And when those around us see Christ in our lives, often they are in- spired to grow, too.

That day on the shore of Galilee, the risen Christ showed Peter and those disciples his priorities. What he said is at the heart of what it means to “live the resurrection” by being the hands and feet of Christ; by being the “Body of Christ” in the world. Are these not our priorities, as well?

Making More Of Our Prayer

Philip Yancey has long been one of my favorite authors in matters of faith. I was attracted to Yancey years ago when I read his book, THE JESUS I NEVER KNEW. I used it as a small group study that in many ways opened new ways of understanding the life and teachings of Christ. Then, that led to another study, WHAT’S SO AMAZING ABOUT GRACE, which also yielded a sermon series on grace. A more recent book, PRAYER: DOES IT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE, prompted our current sermon series during Lent as we explore the significance of prayer for our daily lives by following “The Lord’s Prayer,” the prayer Jesus taught us.

Yancey asked what I think is an important question: “How often do I come to God, not with consumer requests, but simply with a desire to spend time with him?”

To me, that is the real key to a life of prayer. We all have needs that we should express to God. After all, didn’t Jesus tell us to make our requests to God? And didn’t Jesus also say, “Give me your burdens?” Of course, he did. But Jesus, by example, also showed us the importance of simply spending time with God. We see him frequently going off by himself just to pray, to spend time with his Father. Jesus was always praying. That “lifeline,” so to speak, was always open.

Is that the way it is with us? Do we make it a priority to spend time with God? Is it high on our list of desires? Is prayer, and the other spiritual disciplines, truly our “lifeline” to God? If not, could it be that our understanding of prayer hasn’t developed along the way, or maybe is just plain wrong?

Yancey tells the story of Jonathan Aitken, a former member of parliament in the United Kingdom, who compared his early relationship with God to that of a bank manager. “I spoke to (God) politely, visited his premises intermittently, occasionally thanked condescendingly for His assistance, kept up the appearance of being one of his reliable customers, and maintained superficial contact with Him on the grounds that one of these days He might come in useful.”

It was only later, after his life came crashing down and Aitken spent time in prison, that he sought a more intimate relationship with God. And that’s when his life changed. No longer was God remote and distant, an occasional “friend” to call upon when “He might come in useful.” No, God was close and constant, as close as simply speaking God’s name. And God is there for us, too. God wants to hear us. God wants to spend time with us. That’s why God gave us the gift of prayer.

As we move toward Holy Week and Easter Sunday, we will see that the themes of “The Lord’s Prayer” happen to touch on every aspect of our faith journey– from praising God and receiving our daily bread to forgiving others and seeking “Thy will be done.” And finally, we celebrate and share in the joy of resurrec- tion as we lift up our praise: “For thine is the power and the glory, forever! Amen!”

And what we receive through prayer all starts with our desire to spend time with our great and loving God, through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Mike

The Gift of Prayer

The Gift of Prayer

A.W. Tozer, the great Christian author and preacher, once said “Praying for the Christian should be like breathing.” In other words, just as breathing is that reflexive response to our need for air, so prayer should be for our spirit’s need for God.

Certainly, Tozer is right, isn’t he? There are many things we can do to put ourselves into God’s very presence, but few are as immediate and effective as a growing life of prayer. And yet, the reality for many people isn’t quite that easy or simple. Methodist pastor James Howell notes that, at times, “prayer is hard… prayer is frustrating.”

Even the most spiritual people go through times when prayer doesn’t come easily, or doesn’t seem to be beneficial. Look at the disciples of Jesus. Growing up as Jews, they had been praying all their lives; and still they came to Jesus one day and pleaded “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus’ response was to give them a model prayer, which is what we know as The Lord’s Prayer.

So, how is your prayer life? Are you satisfied? Are you getting the benefits you desire from prayer? Are you growing in your relationship with Christ through prayer? Or do you find yourself longing for more? The good news, according to Howell, is that we can learn to pray; we can learn “to discover the fullness of prayer.”

That is our goal for the season of Lent, beginning on February 14, and going through Easter Sunday, as we explore the fullness of prayer through a series of messages based on The Lord’s Prayer. This series will focus on the different aspects of prayer (adoration, intercession, petition, thanksgiving, and more); what a growing prayer life can do for us, our church, and for others; and finally, the joy and power of a fruitful rela- tionship with Jesus Christ.

Join us on Sunday mornings as we strive to grow together in prayer.
In the love of Christ,

Advent: Longing for Peace

 

Once again, hatred and violence seemed to rule the day. The scenes of death and shock and grief flooded the news following the terrible attacks in Paris, and we were reminded again that no one is really immune to the evil intentions of others. It happened, and it will happen again… somewhere.

Such is our world in these times. But this is not the way it has to be, nor is it what God intended for God’s world.

In a matter of days, we will move into the season of Advent. And Advent is about promises—God’s promises! The God who created us and loves us beyond our ability to fully comprehend has acted in the course of history to give us hope and, yes, peace.

Isaiah the prophet lived in times of trouble and persecution, too. And yet, God revealed to him a vision of a new day… a day when God will intervene and judge the nations, “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4).

Of course, that time is not here yet. War is raging all around us. It is in the world and it is on our streets here at home. And that is because of the ongoing battle that rages in the human heart. The Bible calls it sin. Sin can be anything that comes between us and God, including a distorted view of God.

What is our hope? Isaiah gives us the answer. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’.”

Imagine that. Our hope is in a tiny baby born in a manger in an insignificant village in an obscure part of the world. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. More than a teacher, or a prophet, or a worker of miracles, God gave us the Savior of the world! Only Christ can take away sins and change hearts…or show us true peace. Only Christ can give us real hope and salvation.

You see, God did act… and is acting to bring light into the darkness of this world; to bring love and goodness to our lives; to show us a better way.  It may not seem like it at times. We may even find ourselves wondering what God is doing. But no matter how dark it gets, we still have the Light!

May you and yours have a blessed and light- brightened Christmas. In Christ,

Mike

A Day of Remembrance

My father-in-law, Charles, was a veteran. He served on the USS Hank, a destroyer escort, in the Pacific during World War II. Their duty was to help protect the larger ships of the fleet from enemy submarines and attack planes.

During the invasion of Okinawa, toward the end of the war, they took a hit from a kamikaze (suicide) aircraft. The ship suffered severe damage and several shipmates were killed.

Like many of the veterans who returned from war, he didn’t talk about his experience. Rather, to him it as just doing his duty by answering the call of his country. After the war, he went back to school, married his sweetheart Claire, raised a family and built a career with the Small Business Administration and helping others get a start in life.

On this day, I think of him, and so many others I have known over the years, who also answered the call to duty. I think of them taking time away from loved ones, often in the prime of their lives, and devoting themselves to preserving our freedom. Many found themselves in harm’s way, and some didn’t make it back home. Indeed, as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, they gave the “last full measure of their devotion” for their country.

We owe a great deal of gratitude to all of our veterans. At the least, we should never forget the sacrifices they have made. That’s why, for me, Veteran’s Day is special. It is a day of remembering, a day to honor those among us who served in the armed forces. No, this is not about glorifying war. Not at all. It is a day to be thankful that we are free, and to remember those who have paid the price in their service to keep us free.

Today, we honor our veterans.

Grace and Peace,
Mike

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. It was always a day for family— the whole family—coming together for a feast of nearly all of my favorite foods, especially my mother’s pumpkin pies. Yummmmm! Alas, I find myself wondering if Thanksgiving is becoming the forgotten holiday, sandwiched between Halloween and “Black Friday”… I mean Christmas.

Certainly, that was never the case for those first Christians. Their whole lives were centered on “an attitude of gratitude,” and not just for the material things they had. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “Speak to one another… sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything…” (Ephesians 5:19- 20). Another time, he even says that we should be thankful in all circumstances!

Yes, there is much for which to be thankful. Indeed, we could spend a lot of time just trying to count all the “things” in our lives that come as blessing. But you know, I don’t think God is as interested in us counting our blessings as He is in how we express our thanksgiving! In that sense, as nice as it is to gather around a feast with family and friends on a certain day of the year, “thanksgiving” happens all through the year. Our sharing and giving, our caring and service, acts of worship and witness—aren’t these the expressions of our thanksgiving that our loving Father loves to see?

Two thousand years ago, before there were church buildings, it was common practice for Christians to gather in homes, or caves, or wherever they could be safe. In coming together, they would worship and pray and sing hymns. And then they would eat together. This was a special meal. They called it the Eucharist, which means “give thanks.” It was their way of remembering that Jesus had offered himself up so that they could have life… life abundant. It was their thanksgiving meal.

Many centuries later, we read about another group of faithful people who gathered around a table in a new land to share in prayer and thanksgiving. They had barely managed to survive that first harsh winter—many of them didn’t. But still, they remembered God… and the seeds of our modern day holiday were planted.

However we choose to celebrate– or are able to celebrate—may it be a time for cherished memories and blessed moments… and a time to give thanks to a great and mightily
generous God… from whom all blessings flow!

In the love of Christ,

Mike

Every Good Gift Comes from Above

You see the words above? They come from James, who wrote a letter to the Christians in Jerusalem to show them how to live a faithful life. Faith, he tells them, is not about knowing; it’s about doing! It’s about putting our faith to work each and every day, in all circumstances, as we remember the One from whom all our blessings come.

“Every good and perfect gift”—everything we have that is good and meaningful and blessed— “comes from God above” (James 1:17).

Guess what? James pretty much sums up the whole meaning of Christian stewardship in that one verse. God gives! God gives abundantly! God showers us with blessing in more ways than we could ever begin to count. God is the giver of all that is good and blessed in our lives.

…And our response? Is it just to hold on tightly to what we have, and try to get more? Or are we truly grateful? So deeply grateful, in fact, that we want to do something about it. We want to give back. We want to share our blessings. We want to see our gifts bless others. We want to see our church grow in ways that touch lives—ours and our neighbors’.

James constantly reminds us that faith is about living and doing. Our stewardship is a very important part of living our faith. And it is one of the very best ways you and I can truly “make a difference” in the lives of others, especially through our church.

Thus, the month of October—harvest time— brings the opportunity for us as Brevard FUMC to celebrate stewardship… to celebrate the many wonderful ways that God is blessing us!

We kick off our stewardship celebration with Children’s Sabbath on Sunday, Oct. 11, with a church full of children and youth and families. You will receive the first mailing a few days later that will show you how our giving “breaks down” in ministries, programs, compensation and maintenance. Also in that packet there will be a “pledge card” for 2016.

Living and Growing Together

Our church is at a great place right now in its life and ministry. You have heard me mention this on several occasions because that is something I celebrate as a pastor. Truly, it is something for all of us to celebrate. And a big reason our church is so healthy and growing is because of all of you who make up our church family.

The Apostle Paul noted that while we are many members within this “Body of Christ,” we each have different gifts and functions and places of service. In other words, each of us has something to contribute to the well-being of our church; and then he lists some of those areas, such as ministering and teaching, even giving—but all in a spirit of compassion and cheerfulness and genuine love (see Romans 12).

For us, as United Methodist Christians, it is lived out in the membership vows that are made when we come into the church. Remember those? It is our promise to uphold our church by our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.” And for Paul and us, the ultimate goal is simply to “build up” and grow this Body of Christ we know as “First Church.” And that is exactly what we are doing well right now!

And yet, we realize that we aren’t where we can be as a church. There are always new opportuni- ties to learn and grow and serve for each of us, and as we are growing in our faith and discipleship, so will our church continue to grow. Speaking of new opportunities, September is a great time to refocus on “being the church,” and to jump into some new things.

For instance, “Souper Suppers” will start back on Wednesday, Sept. 9. That means children’s choirs and new studies are also coming. In addition to the two DISCIPLE courses being offered on Wednesdays, a new 8-week study of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians will be led by the Rev. Dr. Scott Baker; this will be followed later in the Fall by a 6-week study on Paul and his teachings (Adam Hamilton’s series THE CALL).

A new group for college-age and “20 somethings” is now underway on Sunday mornings and shows a lot of promise—15 were in attendance for the “kick-off” and 8 were attending from Brevard College.
By the way, Sunday School attendance for August 23 was 263!

In mid-September, our church leadership team will take the first steps toward a new visioning process for our church. Where is God leading us as a church? The Rev. Luke Lingle, who is our area representative for the conference Vitality team, will be our facilitator.

The month of October brings fall colors, but also a special Sunday called “Children’s Sabbath,” on October 11. The plan is to combine our three worship services into one (10:55) to celebrate children and youth together. It will also kickoff the annual stewardship campaign for 2016.

This fall, we are launching two new areas for ministry and service in our church, which will enable us to expand our Christian education programs, as well as fellowship and caring ministries. The first focus area is “Spiritual Growth and Discipleship” which includes Sunday School, Bible studies, confirmation, youth and children’s ministries, stewardship, membership training, discipleship groups, devotional aids, and teacher training. The second focus area is Church Life and Caring Ministries. It includes Stephen Ministry, prayer groups, bereavement, visitation to homebound, prayer shawl group and others as part of caring for the congregation. But another emphasis will be on fellowship (Souper Suppers, church picnics, and special events) and wellness ministries (hiking, walking, recreational ministries).

All of these things are coming out of an effort to answer the questions: “How can we do this better? And how can it involve more of us in our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, & witness?”

I am grateful for all you do for Christ and your Church…

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