Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Forgiveness and Grace

Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. – Luke 24:45-47

I am writing to you little children because your sins are forgiven on account of [Jesus's] name. – 1 John 2:12

There is a lot of hurt out there, my brothers and sisters. A lot.

There are families that hurt. While it sounds like a catch phrase, dysfunctional families are a reality. To see your loved ones hurt is bad enough, but to see them do destruction to themselves and others hurts us even more.

There are people who hurt. Dreams are not realized. Poor feelings of self-worth take away our joy. Broken relationships between family and friends become heavy baggage to tote around. Gossipers and busybodies seem to take delight in the misfortune of others. Health concerns and diseases of body and mind make us feel shackled.

We often deal with these things by not dealing with them, but all this does is remind us of our inadequacy, incompleteness, and unworthiness. Yet forgiveness isn’t something we earn or is available only for the perfect – it is for us. Our merit and our worth aren't even dependent on the opinions, grudges, or disdain of others: God created us to be in communion with Him. He claims each of us as his child. He hurts when we hurt. And his forgiveness and grace is available to all.

I met with a man the other day, not a church member, who is terminally ill. He has lived a long life, been through bouts of cancer, and this time has decided to forego treatments and instead let nature take its course. When I complimented him on his faith, he said to me, “God has allowed me to accomplish what I needed to on this earth. For now, I am awaiting further instructions.” I was humbled beyond words.

Augustine once said that we are restless until we find rest in God. I think he's right, and when we do find our rest in God, the baggage of unforgiven sin and the weight of our unwillingness to forgive others are removed. Instead of fearing life (or death), we can embrace it. God is eager to forgive us and our sins, and to share our burdens.

Don’t be afraid to ask God for what He so desperately wants to give us.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

God Works in Mysterious Ways

Some churches would give anything to be able to move their church to a more prominent location. In our case, however, the prominent location is moving to us.

After years of planning and promises, Reidland's traffic is being re-routed for safety reasons. And Reidland UMC will now be on the busiest corner in Reidland and southeastern McCracken county. We are scrambling to make parking provisions, and have hired an architect to see if he can turn what used to be the back of the church into a new front of the church. We now have contiguous property not separated by a highway. Exciting times!

(Click on any picture to enlarge)

The road construction project (now underway) got a lot of press around the church... even the governor showed up! From left to right: James Brockman (church council chair), Jim Wheeler, myself, and Govenor Fletcher.

Plans (so far) can be seen by clicking here. The master site plan poster is in the background as the governor speaks on upcoming highway projects in Reidland UMC's fellowship hall. Pictured with him is County Judge-Executive Van Newberry and Paducah Mayor Bill Paxton.

Groundbreaking took place at the end of the press conference. I am certainly excited... but will be more excited when it's all done.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What’s Old Becomes New Again

Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the Lord… - Psalm 148:12-13a

I heard on the news this morning that the first of the baby boomers are starting to receive Social Security benefits. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 (I missed being one by a year). Already, retirees make up the largest demographic group in the United States in terms of age. It will only get larger. Now I could go into what that means for us as a national practically, socially, and economically, but I won’t, as I might need that for newsletter fodder when suffering from writer’s block.

Some facts:

• There are now about 629 million people in the world age 60 or over. Some representative countries:
• China now has 10 percent over 60; by 2050, 30 percent is projected;
• Mexico now has 7 percent over 60; by 2050, 24 percent is projected;
• United States now has 16 percent over 60; by 2050, 27 percent is projected; and
• Brazil has 8 percent over 60; by 2050, 24 percent is projected.

In the United States:

• In 1770s, the birthrate was 7 children per woman.
• In 1930s, the birthrate was 2.1 children per woman.
• After World War II, the birthrate jumped to 3.8 children per woman.
• Beginning in 1946, 76 million children were born over an 18-year period, creating the Baby Boomer generation.
• Of today’s boomers, one-third are well off, one-third will work longer to gain resources for retirement, and one-third are deeply in debt with no pensions.
• In 1900, 4 percent of the population was 65 or older, and 40 percent were children or teenagers.
• By 1990, 12.5 percent was 65 or older, and only 24 percent were children or teenagers.
• Projected by 2030: 22 percent will be 65 or older; only 19 percent will be children or teenagers.
• Today, the average age of a United Methodist is between 57 to 62.

Life Expectancy:

• Through 99 percent of human history, average life expectancy was less than 18 years.
• During the last century, average life expectancy has risen from 47 years in 1900 to 76 years today.
• Currently, there are 78 million Americans past the age of 50... a number nearly equal to the total American population 100 years ago.
• By 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts there will be more than 115 million adults over 50 years of age — a 50 percent increase.
• Currently, there are about 100,000 anti-aging projects underway.

Wealth and Politics:

• Age 50+ adults control more than $7 trillion in wealth; that’s 70 percent of the total.
• They own 77 percent of all financial assets, represent 66 percent of all stockholders, own 80 percent of all money in S&Ls, buy 48 percent of all luxury cars and 74 percent of all pharmaceuticals.
• During the 1990s the percentage of Americans with income of $100,000 or more has tripled.
• Nearly 70 percent of Americans 65 years of age or older voted in 1995.
• Only 33 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 voted.

What does this mean where the Church is concerned? I think it affords us a lot of opportunity. If we as Reidland UMC were to look at our programming ministries in terms of numbers, do you know which program is the largest? Older Adult Ministries. Our OWLS gatherings sometimes have as many as 60 people present. The reality is that, at least in the United States, we are begetting fewer children and our population is increasingly older. It may be that more and more churches will be hiring full-time older adult ministry coordinators. Not that youth and children’s ministries aren’t important, but among the baby-boomers that are rising (and now retiring), many of them have been unchurched their whole lives. Along with evangelizing the young, we may need to expand that to evangelizing the older, too! One day in the not-to-distant future, I may be holding confirmation classes for retirees.

Something to ponder: our church’s main mission could be to excel in ministering to older adults. As the baby boomers retire, there is certainly going to be no shortage of older adults. What if we became “the older adult” church in the Greater Paducah area? We might not be able to hold everyone.

Think further outside the box for a moment. Do you know what group of people has the freest time to volunteer? The most free income and resources? You guessed it – older adults. There is no telling what kind of ministries could be birthed and supported by a church full of such adults.

We certainly need to instruct our youth and raise our children, and no one is saying to ditch those ministries. But it is very hard to argue with facts and data – older adults are the largest segment of our population, and getting larger by the minute. While we have often said that youth are the lifeblood of the church, it may be that we need to rethink that saying. It may be that older adults are the lifeblood of the church: they have so much to offer and share to all of us, and the world.

I think that’s something for all of us to think about.


p.s. Most of the demographical information came from Ken Dychtwald’s “The Age Wave Is Coming,” his congressional testimony on March 19, 2002, in support of SB 953.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ever Feel Like This?

From one of my most favorite Saturday Night Live skits:

Reverend Dwight Henderson: World's Meanest Methodist Minister

Rev. Dwight Henderson.....John Lithgow
Secretary.....Nora Dunn
Paul.....Kevin Nealon
Barbara.....Victoria Jackson
Janet.....Jan Hooks
Marvin Hill.....Dana Carvey

Announcer: It's time for another episode of "Reverend Dwight Henderson: World's Meanest Methodist Minister".

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ dictating a letter to his Secretary ] "My Dear Mrs. Randall: Regarding your invitation for Easter dinner - in someithng akin to a nightmare, I imagine myself seated with you and your.. grotesque family, suffering through an evening of what passes for conversation in your household. And the horror of that image compels me to shun your home, Madam, as I would some kind of dread skin disease." Mmm.. "Yours, with best wishes for this holiday season.. blah, blah, blah.. Reverend Dwight Henderson." Oh, and uh.. "P.S. Enjoy your turkey and Cheese Whiz."

Secretary: I'll get this in the mail today, Reverend.

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ sighing ] Oh, Rose.. I'm so desperately tired. Why don't we call it a day?

Secretary: But, Reverend, it isn't noon yet, and there's some people waiting to see you, they've been waiting all morning.

Reverend Dwight Henderson: Honestly, can there be a job on earth more difficult than mine? Show them in.

Secretary: [ goes to the door and lets a couple enter the Reverend's office ] Uh, Reverend, these are the Marchinsons - Paul and Barbara.

Barbara: Morning, Reverend.

Paul: Morning, Reverend.

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ not interested in the formalities ] Yes, yes.. you have a problem of some kind?

Paul: Uh, yes, Reverend.. [ fidgety ] Barbara and I were, were married.. uh.. two years ago.. uh.. and lately.. lately..

Reverend Dwight Henderson: Please. Get on with it.

Barbara: Uh, Reverend, our marriage has notbeen going on too well lately.. and before we went into a professional counselor, we thought we would ask you for your advice.

Reverend Dwight Henderson: Madam, as a minister of the gospel, of course I recognize the importance of the institution of holy matrimony. At the same time, however, I must tell you that it simply is not a subject which interests me. Next! Next!

[ the Marchinsons are marched out, as the next member of the congregation is brought in ]

Secretary: Reverend, this is Janet Whitmeer..

Janet: Good morning, Reverend!

Reverend Dwight Henderson: Yes?

Janet: Uh, Reverend.. I live alone with my mother..

Reverend Dwight Henderson: Yes?

Janet: And, uh.. she's an invalid, and during the day I have to leave to go to work..

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ annoyed ] I trust this is leading somewhere..?

Janet: Well.. Reverend, she has a heart condition, and I worry if something should happen.. [ Reverend Henderson mimes playing the violin in sarcasm ] ..while I'm not there. And so I was wondering if perhaps someone from the parish could just drop by and check up on her from time to time?

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ mocking ] Someone? Don't you mean "Reverend Henderson"? Sure, why spend money on a nurse. We'll get Reverend Henderson to do it for free! Sure! He's happy to spend his days running all over town entertaining all our local shut-ins! He's got nothing better to do!

Janet: [ aghast ] Reverend, I didn't mean you.. I.. I..

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ upset ] Oh, away with you!

[ Janet is pushed outside, and the next member of the congregation enters ]

Secretary: Marvin Hill.

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ perturbed ] Yes..

Marvin Hill: [ carrying Easter basket ] Good morning, Reverend. I'm not here on account of any problem.. although, things haven't been going too well for us since I got laid off. But I just came by to wish you a Happy Easter, and to drop off this Easter basket that the wife made..

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ miffed at the annoying gesture ] Puh-leeeeze!

Marvin Hill: ..and to say hello from Joan and myself.. well, actually, Joan.. uh..

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ waves him off ] Dismissed! [ walks away ]

Marvin Hill: Thank you. Thanks a lot. Thank you. [ exits ]

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ back at his desk ] Rose, you know it's been a few weeks since we've gone over the accounts for the Sunday collections.

Secretary: Well, Reverend, there really hasn't been much to count.

Reverend Dwight Henderson: I see. Well, how much was turned in?

Secretary: Well, actually, Reverend, nothing was turned in. As a matter of fact, nothing has been turned in for the last three Sundays. I think it may be part of an organized protest.

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ shocked and disturbed ] I'm afraid you've lost me! A protest against what?

Secretary: Reverend Henderson, forgive my bluntness, but you should be aware that you are not liked by some members of the parish.

Reverend Dwight Henderson: Well, of course. They're cattle!

Secretary: Well, Reverend, the fact is that a great many people find your tone sort of off-putting. The Methodists in this community are used to a more conventional style ministry.. you know, someone who's a lot more polite, and not such a.. butthole.

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ takes it in ] I see. Tell me, Rose.. why do you work for me? You know, I don't pay you.

Secretary: Because.. [ pause ] I love you!

Reverend Dwight Henderson: [ absorbs the sudden information ] Puh-leeeeze! Spare me!

Announcer: This has been another episode of "Reverend Dwight Henderson: World's Meanest Methodist Minister".

Originally aired: April 11, 1987

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Halloween Approaches

Be afraid. Be very afraid...

(That's my formerly sweet-looking daughter, btw)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Being Bold with the Gospel

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. – Isaiah 43:18-19

During the past year, I have found myself challenged as never before. I am in the midst of middle age in a denomination that is facing decline. My physical age tells me that I will be more resistant to change. Everything I read in scripture and the reality of things, however, tells me that I need to be ready to embrace change. My father sometimes says, “The ‘good ole days’ weren’t all that good.” The prophet Isaiah said, “Do not dwell on the past.” Touché.

So I’m trying to lighten up. At the end of the month, Grace Episcopal Church is having a “U2charist,” that is, a service of Holy Communion set to the music of U2, whose lead singer Bono is a committed Christian and very active in world benevolences. In exchange for U2’s publishing company allowing the music to be used, they have asked that all offerings go to charity to fight extreme poverty and the AIDS crisis. I have agreed to help plan and participate. Now I have done a communion service set to music many times… but never to rock music. Who will come to it? If the current trend is any indication, a lot of unchurched will show up. And that’s a good thing.

And recently I read of a media campaign that GracePoint Church, a United Methodist church in Wichita, Kansas, marketed in their area. They rented billboards, designed T-shirts, did movie theater advertising, and sent direct mail out in their area with this slogan: “Church doesn’t SUCK!”

A lot of people didn’t appreciate it – and I didn’t even have the nerve to print the whole word "suck" in our church newsletter (blogs tend to make us a little braver, I guess). But the target audience evidently did appreciate it. GracePoint went from 400 to 600 in worship since the campaign began. And one young lady told pastor Bryson Butts, “You know, I was surprised. The worship service DIDN’T suck!” Bishop Scott Jones said that the slogan communicated well with the young. And the Rev. Butts added, “We weren’t risking enough. We weren’t stepping out enough. It’s about taking risks and being bold with the gospel.”

Evidently, it’s working. GracePoint only started as a church in 2004. They now worship 600. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”

What can we do to be bold?