Nov 30, 2012

The True Meaning of Christmas

As I watch people, the media, etc. tell everyone what Christmas means, my guess is that our world is full of misinformation. because few Christians cared enough to tell people about the true meaning without putting the other person down as a sinner or worse.

I hope all of us can share the story of the baby in the manger (no, not Little Santa as a baby) who turned out by God’s good grace to be the Messiah of the world. We cannot blame people if no one has ever really set them straight on the “what’s up” on Jesus. As Paul wrote in Romans 10:13-17: “For, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?... So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” ... and we are the ones who proclaim it and tell it and share it.

I pray that when we get opportunity these next few weeks to inform other people of the “true meaning of Christmas” we can do our best to share “the good news of Jesus Christ.” If we do not share the story of Christmas from the perspective of faith, then how will our culture ever understand its meaning?

One night, when I was working in Georgetown, someone from the Sheriff’s Department in Williamson County asked if our church could give to charity? The caller was calling for the Williamson County’s charity for Christmas. I said, “Ma’am, do you know what churches do?”

She said, “Not really. I know that churches hold weddings, though.” I said, “What you are now doing this December is what we do all year, every year. The church has been the charity for hurting people for almost 2000 years. When you ask us to give to you, then you are asking the original charity to contribute to another charity.”

She then thanked me and said, “No one ever told me that before.”

Merry Christmas!

Nov 9, 2012

The Bible: We Don’t Teach it—Duh?

Recently, in a church meeting here at FUMC of Arlington someone remarked: “The trouble with the Methodist church is they don’t teach the Bible.” Apart from the disturbing use of “they” by one of “our” church members was the fact that this person did not have his/her facts correct in any event. We study the Bible around here all the time. I will give you some examples:

We have what is called “Immersion Bible Study”—recently expanded to two sessions—a morning and evening session on Wednesdays. This is an in-depth study of each book of the Bible with excellent resources that help participants apply the information to their daily lives. We have studied Matthew, Mark and John, Romans, Genesis and Psalms. The groups will begin a study on Luke and then Acts in January.

In addition, there is also an early morning men’s study group that meets at 6 am each Wednesday and a women’s group that meets at 10 on Wednesday mornings. Recently, we added an additional women’s group meeting in the evening.

On Thursday night we have two Bible study groups. One alternates between Disciple Bible Study and Bible studies on seasonal topics such as Advent and Lent. The other group began as a Beginnings study group to introduce people to Methodism and Bible study. They are now doing Bible studies based on Adam Hamilton’s Bible study guides.

The Disciple Bible study that Larry Thomas leads on Sunday afternoons is always full.

Many of our Adult Sunday school classes use either the International Bible Series, or short term Bible studies by authors such as Adam Hamilton, J. Ellsworth Kalas, and James Moore.

Our youth ministry is based on biblical lessons both on Sunday and Wednesday evenings.

Our children’s ministry uses scripture as a basis for its Sunday morning lessons as well as the Wednesday evening Kids in Mission. Way of the Child is also scripture based and closes each Sunday evening’s session with a meditation on a story from the Bible.

All ministries of this church—prayer, mission, caring, and evangelism, etc.—are performed as a response to action inspired by God’s word as experienced through the study of the scriptures.

Last of all, I teach a Lectionary Bible Study on Tuesday evenings from 6:00 to 7:00 in the Banquet Room which is always comfortably full of United Methodist people who are actually studying the Bible. This particular study provides an in-depth study of the scripture texts that we use on the following Sunday in worship. This study runs roughly concurrent with the public school year.

So . . . for a church that does not “teach the Bible,” I would like to suggest we are doing quite a bit of it and at a pretty high level. Like my old daddy used to ask: “Why let a few facts stand in the way of a good story?”

PS: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge” (Job 38:2)?

Nov 2, 2012

All Saints Sunday II

All Saints Sunday provides the church—us—a ritual means to remember those who have lived among us: those who showed us what it means to be Christian. When we read the names of our brothers and sisters in faith and when we hear the chimes or the bell, it reminds each of us of our own mortality. We will all, sooner or later, have our own names and chime on a day much like this day. Our worship ritual reminds us what is important—although many of us could not put this moment into words. What we remember is so much larger than our understanding of it. Ritual is a practice to remind each of us that too often we stand in the presence of greatness, yet we often forget it. Worst of all, we often fail to recognize the simple greatness of other people.

When I was nine years old, I walked across the street with my father to be with the Bates family. They learned that their 16-year-old daughter died as a result of heart surgery complications. I was really too young to realize just how difficult that walk across the street was for my father. He and Mr. Bates were good friends. In the midst of stunned and profound silence, one of the men in the living room suggested, “Let’s pray.” As we bowed our heads I remember thinking that I had never seen a group of grown ups so intensely sad and completely powerless. Yet, in their own ritualized way they turned toward God because God was the source and the end of all that they were. Ritual helps us remember that life’s most profound moments—both in joy and in grief—must finally and completely be handed over to God.

On All Saints Sunday we hand the lives of our saints over to God—but we keep their memory alive in our worship and in our hearts. On All Saints Sunday we celebrate the ritual of thanksgiving to God because God has put these important people into our lives and given us a memory of them that never fades. We are thankful to God because that is our proper response. I only pray that through our ritual of thanksgiving we can remember that God really does gives us gifts of people who truly make living life worth the while. Amen.

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