I love playing the board game, Monopoly. I like the way this game helps to teach my girls about handling and counting money, making change, and thinking ahead. And if I just happen to smirk a little bit with a sense of glee as they head towards my hotel on Boardwalk, who can blame me, right? It’s just a game.
I actually read a book about playing Monopoly last week. It was a small, “insiders” book called The Monopoly Companion and I breezed through it in just a couple of nights before bed. I found interesting trivia like there were only three railroads that went into Atlantic City in the 1930s (Pennsylvania, Reading, B&O) and that the ‘Shortline’ was a bus company. Also, that Marvin Gardens is actually a pretty ritzy place outside of the city and is actually misspelled on the gameboard (It‘s Marven Gardens). I also found out that the ‘Chance’ cards usually will send you somewhere else on the board and the ‘Community Chest’ cards will most likely give you money you had no way of counting on.
I read how playing Monopoly properly is to try and squeeze your opponents out of their money as quickly as possible. I learned that you should never make loans, never let anyone change the rules by putting money on the ‘Free Parking’ space or try to talk you into doubling earnings when you land on ‘GO’ because those things just make the game longer and drag out the bankruptcies that are the whole object of the game. Be thankful when you’re the winner. Be thankful that you didn’t go bankrupt.
As we approach Thanksgiving, especially as a Christian, I wonder how many of us are approaching this holiday the same way we are taught to approach Monopoly: Be thankful for the good stuff you get and the good that happens to you… or for the bad that doesn’t.
We do it all the time don’t we? An earthquake rocks the west coast and those of us in the east thank God that we don’t live there. We hear of violence in the streets of Jerusalem and we condemn them for being so ungodly and pray a prayer of thankfulness that we live in a fairly peaceful country. Or we hear that our President or our neighbor has been caught in sin, and we rage with righteous anger out loud while secretly breathing a prayer of thanks that we have never been caught in our sins.
Most of us only express thankfulness to God in the matters that have no real spiritual significance. We’re thankful when the other team loses the baseball game and our team wins. We’re thankful we beat that guy in the wheelchair to the closest parking space. We’re thankful that thousands of people lost money so that we could ‘win’ the lottery. We’re thankful that farmers aren’t making as much money so that our milk can be a nickel cheaper. Who cares about those people anyway!
That’s not the Christian idea of giving thanks… that’s the American culture idea of ‘getting ahead’ and ‘looking out for number one.’ That’s the Monopoly idea of get them before they get you. Is that the best Christianity has to offer? Is that what it means when we are told in Scripture to follow Christ?
This Thanksgiving, let’s change this around, shall we? Let’s begin by thanking God that he loves us…. As well as all those others around us as well. And let’s look at those many blessings that we are counting, and realize that God only gave them to us so that he could use us to give them out to others with greater need. Let’s be thankful that He chooses to trust us with HIS wealth and trusts us to use it to help others.
For you see, in the ‘game’ of living everyday life, we Christians are not supposed to be the landlords greedily trying to bankrupt those around us, but rather we are supposed to be the ‘Community chest’ cards… offering the hope of sharing our blessings to those around us. And THEN we will truly be giving thanks!
Near the end of the book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 31, we read how Moses announced that he would no longer be the leader of God's people. Just four months ago, Pastor Jay Sterling stood up in a worship service here at Clarks Mills and said a very similar thing. The Lord, through our Bishop and District Superintendent, had made it clear that he would be needed elsewhere.
In the Biblical account Moses made his announcement in verses 1, 2, and 3, and then announced that Joshua would be his successor at the end of verse 3. Our United Methodist appointment process doesn't work quite that fast. However, in short order the announcement came that I would be appointed to succeed Pastor Jay.
In Deuteronomy, Moses went through some transitional preparations to make sure Joshua would be able to step in easily. Then Moses blessed Joshua and the people. The people celebrated their love and admiration of their beloved Moses. And then, in chapter 34, Moses steps out and follows the path God has set for him, and Joshua steps in to lead the people.
We, as of today (7/1/2011), have followed that same script. Jay has been celebrated, and he will be missed. He and I have talked transitional details, but he begins a new ministry away from here and I, like Joshua of old, find myself looking at the shoes I'm expected to fill and recognize that I can't do it. Joshua couldn't replace Moses, and I'll never be like Jay Sterling.
Deut. 34:10 states "There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses ..." (NLT).
Joshua succeeded because he wasn't trying to be like Moses, but rather he simply did his best to follow God. The people knew Joshua was no Moses, so they didn't expect him to be.
That's my plan, and my hope, as well. I am not Jay. In some ways I might do things the same as Jay would have. In other situations, I may not. Joshua wasn't like Moses, but he still led by listening to the Lord as Moses had. That's something I have in common with Jay (and Moses and Joshua). I need to hear the Lord before I know what to do next.
Together, let's worship God and be deliberate about listening to our Lord as He leads each of us. And then just watch how we, together, can reach out and share Christ with those we encounter, into whatever situations and ministries He leads us.
God has a great plan for the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church, and I'm excited he's allowed me the opportunity to be a part of that plan! How about you?
"I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now." -- Phil. 1:3-
Well, here it is, my last newsletter article as pastor of Clarks Mills United Methodist Church. I know how Paul felt when he wrote this letter, his happiest, to his brothers and sisters in the church at Philippi. He didn't get the privilege of sharing 11 years with them in close fellowship and ministry as we have had together. But I agree wholeheartedly with what he describes as constantly praying with joy for all of you because of the way you have shared in the work of the gospel from the first day I arrived here until now.
My family and I have been truly blessed in the years we have lived here. For Sarah and Joanna, Clarks Mills will always represent home in a way Conneaut Lake or any subsequent location God sends me never will. We will take with us a lot of great memories of Lydia grabbing for the microphone whenever she was up in front of the church with the other kids for a program. And to Donna and the Drama Disciples, thank you for bringing out the "ham" in me, which also allowed me to open myself up more in my preaching and teaching. Special thanks also to Bob McGhee and his crew of Trustees that first year who heard Martha's and my concerns about the parsonage and made it into a home we quickly grew to love.
There are a lot of very dear saints who are now in glory who have given me memories I will always treasure. Thank you Dahlia, Art, Dale, Alberta, Skip, Jay and Bev, Owen, Evelyn and Bob, Jan, Vern and Nancy, Bessie and Bernice, Howard and Barb, Hazel, Rhoda, Jean, Ted, Junior, Kathryn, Bruce, Irene, Jimmy, Jim, Elsie, Iza, Betty. Homer, Ruth, Butch, Catherine, Duane, and Clair. Forgive me if I have forgotten any names. I certainly haven't forgotten the blessings these dear folks have given me.
There are far too many of you dear saints who continue in ministry here to thank by name, but I want to thank you all for putting up with me and some of my crazy ideas (like the "fire rags" SueAnn). You have worked with me faithfully as a team to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ and the work of preceding generations and pastors at Clarks Mills. You have allowed me to test ideas and dream dreams. Through you, I have grown tremendously as a Christian and especially as a pastor. Trinity UMC will benefit tremendously from the lessons you have taught me. I know you will continue to work just as faithfully with Rev. Dayton Mix and his family as they become part of the Clarks Mills family.
Now for the tough part. From July 1st on I will always be your brother in Christ, but I will no longer be your pastor. I know you will accept Dayton as your pastor as you accepted me in July 2000. But I do need to be clear in explaining a basic issue. I will not be available to do any more weddings or funerals here, so please don't ask me. If Dayton should ask me, and if I have nothing on my schedule at Trinity, I may be willing to take a small part in the service but would prefer to attend these events as a guest and friend.
Next month Dayton will be offering his introductory article in this space. Maybe his desk won't be as "cluttered" as mine has always been; but if it is, I know he'll get all the help he needs from all of you. Thank you for a wonderful 11 years!
Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." ...John 13:8
You know the story ... Jesus and his disciples met together in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem according to the Jewish tradition. But almost immediately, Jesus instituted a radical change in the proceedings. At the beginning of a feast it was traditional for the host to provide a servant, the lowest ranking servant in the household, to wash the feet of his guests. Foot-washing was both cleansing and relaxing as the guests were ushered from the outside world into the festive or, in this case, reverent atmosphere of the feast. Astonished, the disciples watched as Jesus took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and began to wash their feet.
Peter, who seemed to always take the wrong approach with Jesus, quickly spoke up to protect Jesus' dignity as Jesus prepared to wash his feet. It was unthinkable that the Messiah stoop so low to perform this most humbling of service. Peter tried to forbid Jesus, boldly declaring, "You will NEVER wash my feet." I can picture a pained expression on Jesus' face as, once again, Peter was completely missing the lesson Jesus was enacting for them all. Jesus' stinging rebuke again fell hard on Peter's ears and conscience: "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me -- you have no place at my table, you have no place in my kingdom."
You see, until we accept Jesus' ultimate humiliation, execution as a common criminal on a cursed cross, accomplished for us to be forgiven of our sins, redeemed from judgment, and raised from death to life, we have no place at our Lord's table. We have reduced our observance of Good Friday to little more than an asterisk between Palm Sunday and Easter morning in part because we really don't like to be reminded of Jesus' suffering and death. We don't like to be humiliated and, like Peter, we don't like to think of Jesus being so humiliated -- especially because of us and for us! So we try to jump from the "Hosannas" to the "Hallelujahs" without plumbing the depths of Good Friday.
But there is another reason why we are so prone to skip past the Last Supper and the Cross. Jesus was teaching his disciples his most valuable lesson: the Messiah, the Son of God, did not come to be served but to serve. He powerfully demonstrated his service by washing the disciples' feet. He even more powerfully demonstrated his service by willingly going to the Cross in our place. And he was teaching his followers, including all of us, that service is the route into his Kingdom. No one is too high and mighty to serve others. No one is so down and out to be unworthy of being served.
Some scholars believe there was a time in the early church when foot-washing was as much a sacrament as Holy Communion, celebrated perhaps even as a preparation for Communion. Over the course of years foot-washing fell out of liturgical fashion, perhaps because priests or congregations (like Peter) felt it was too humiliating. Oh, for Maundy Thursday the church preserved the rite but now so ritualized as to be more performance than genuinely humble service. Returning to the practice of foot-washing isn't the cure for what ails the church. Reviving the sense that God has put us here in this community, in this congregation, not to be served but to serve, willingly and joyfully, will definitely have an impact on both those who are too proud for and those who think they are too unworthy of the kind of service Jesus has performed for all of us on the Cross.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven...
As most of you know by now, my family and I will be leaving Clarks Mills at the end of June. On January 26th I got the call that I knew would come one of these days. Rev. George Porter, our District Superintendent, and Rev. Pat Harbison, the Erie-Meadville District Superintendent, were on the other end of the line on a speaker phone to tell me that the Bishop and Cabinet believed I was the right choice to fill the pulpit at Trinity UMC in Conneaut Lake. On February 2, Martha, Lydia, and I met with the Pastor/Parish Relations Committee at Trinity and after that meeting I was sure it was time to make the move.
First and foremost in my reasoning is that I have always trusted God to answer the when and where questions for my ministry. I wasn't sure about Trinity as I was about Clarks Mills when I first talk to the District Superintendents. But as the next week passed, each day God added something in the way of confirmation. If I didn't believe this move was God's will, I would have turned it down. Clearly there are some benefits to accepting the move to Trinity: it is a growing church that is hungry for God's Word just like Clarks Mills was when I first came here in July 2000. Martha will be able to keep her job, which is a definite plus in this economy. Sarah, Johanna, and Lydia will still be close to their friends from Commodore Perry. Another important family consideration is that I will still be close to my parents.
What I want to make as clear as I possibly can is that we would have been more than content to stay at Clarks Mills if I believe God wanted me to stay here. You folks have brought more to my life and my growth as a pastor than you will ever know. You accepted me not only as your pastor but as a person and embraced all my foibles and quirks with a gracious love and appreciation that made me fell part of the family. You helped provide a safe, healthy environment for our daughters to grow up and and become spectacular people they are(I am a very proud father!). You have been open to new ideas, embraces visions and challenges, been flexible enough to adjust when plans have not worked out perfectly, and have worked together with and without me to witness Jesus Christ faithfully in this community. I am deeply grateful for these past 11 years!
Rev. Dayton Mix has been announced as the next pastor to help lead Clarks Mills UMC forward in ministry. As I told him when he and his wife Gay looked over the parsonage the night he met with our Staff/Parish Relations Committee, he should consider himself blessed as he is getting appointed to one of the best churches in the Annual Conference. I know you will all welcome him, love him and treat him as fairly as you welcomed me 11 years ago. While the Bishop appoints Rev. Mix here, don't ever forget that God is in charge, God is placing him here come July, and is answering our prayer for the kind of pastoral leadership who can keep this church growing in our faith and witness.
The scripture above says simply "For everything there is a season..." and this season I've been call by God to serve as pastor at Clarks Mills has been truly a blessed season for me. Seasons change, pastors change, but God and his work in and through our lived is changeless. We still have four months and a lot of work yet to accomplish together but I want to take this special opportunity to begin saying than you for a most wonderful season for me and my family.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, "Here I am". -Isaiah 58:9a
The verse above comes from a time when the Jewish people were facing severe adversity. Judah was a small nation sandwiched between great powers, Egypt and Babylon. Politically, they were torn between those who encouraged seeking protection from the one against the other and vice versa. "Protection" meant paying tribute to the foreign power being wooed and offering to worship their gods alongside the God of Israel. To raise the money for the protection services of the foreign power meant raising taxes, which hit the poor much harder than the rich and even increased the economic advantage of the rich over the poor. All in the hope that the right protector was chosen (Judah guessed wrong, placing their confidence in Egypt, rebelling against Babylon, and suffering the full consequences when Babylon crushed Egypt--but that was yet to come).
Judah still hoped in the LORD God Almighty, maintaining their worship rituals and sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple, celebrating their traditional holy days, and declaring fasts to the LORD as they expected God to protect them and his holy house on Mount Zion. But the above verse begins with "Then," a conditional statement with the condition being that Judah fulfill their end of God's covenant if they expect God to fulfill his end. Those conditions are in the verses immediately preceding 9a. The "fast" God desired included these elements:
- let the oppressed, the poor who were forced into debt slavery by the rich, go free
- share bread with the hungry
- welcome the homeless poor into their comfortable homes
- clothe the naked
- take responsibility for the needs of their neighbors
A big part of the reason why I have been on my "Kingdom Living" kick is that I see our nation in a similar condition to Judah. We like to think that we are still the great superpower, hoping to find security behind the might of our armed forces. But in the past couple of years we have shockingly discovered that we are a bankrupt economic former superpower with another, not so friendly, superpower holding our mortgage. We elected Democrats in 2006 and 2008 hoping they could fix the economy and put people back to work. We elected Republicans in November with the same vain hope. And I'm quite sure there are a lot of good Christian leaders out there preaching that if we will just straighten up and fly right, pray a little more, and even declare a fast, God will owe us a blessing and answer our prayers to make us prosperous once more. SORRY, I don't believe it!
God's judgment may be falling upon us because we as a nation have abused our prosperity. Our economic morality has come to be based on the selfish principle of "Look out for #1" or "Do anything to get ahead." Profits and higher executive salaries came before people and communities. Move the manufacturing wherever labor is cheapest, taxes are lowest, and government regulations are fewest. When American workers demanded higher wages, take the jobs overseas where labor is cheap and easier to oppress. But all those unemployed workers owned homes--or owned mortgages--and the housing market collapsed, then the banks and investment houses started collapsing, the stock market took a dive, retirement funds and credit evaporated, and our mighty economy just about came to a grinding halt. There is hope!
I DO believe that if the professing Christians in this country begin practicing exactly the kind of Kingdom Living God was encouraging Judah to follow and witness this same kind of behavior to our society, our nation just might truly experience a genuine revival. Praying or even fasting for revival won't cut it anymore than it did for Judah. When we are willing to forgive debts and give unselfishly to share bread with the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, and love our neighbors as we love God and ourselves, THEN "the LORD will answer...and he will say, 'Here I am'." (Read Matthew 25:31-46).