Pastor's Blogby Rev. Kevin Miller
Feel free to read and comment as I share my thoughts on a variety of topics that I hope you find interesting or uplifting.
The Road Ahead…
My in-laws shared some bad news with me recently: time accelerates when one retires rather than slow down.
As I age, I find the days and weeks going by much too quickly. What seemed like an eternity when I put something on my calendar arrives more quickly. And so it is with the United Methodist Church’s General Conference coming up next month.
If you’re not aware, the United Methodist Church (UMC) is a world-wide denomination. Every four years, delegates (clergy and lay) from around the world gather to celebrate ministry as well as set policy. This is called “General Conference.” At the Conference in July, 2016, the delegates decided they had reached an impasse around divisive issues of homosexuality, the definition of marriage and rites of ordination. These topics have been debated at the last 12 General Conferences (yep…48 years).
In response, the Council of Bishops formed a “Commission on the Way Forward” to bring back recommendations and called for a special General Conference to be held on February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. This time is now fast-approaching.
Last summer, the Commission released their recommendations to the Council of Bishops – three plans that will come before General Conference for consideration, debate and, possibly, vote. For a history and summary of the Commission as well as a summary of the three plans, explore these videos: https://vimeo.com/album/5619344
Whether you are fervently United Methodist in your doctrine and faith or don’t even know what a United Methodist is, this decision impacts you and this church. Some of you have already decided that if General Conference makes a decision you don’t agree with, you’re gone! Before you do that, I ask you to take a deep breath.
A couple of months ago, my best friend in ministry, and twice-a-month breakfast companion, and I decided to do something we’ve never done before – collaborate on a sermon series. And the topic is General Conference. So we went away for 24 hours and prayed and talked and prayed and outlined a sermon series called “The Road Ahead” that I’ll be preaching in the weeks leading up to the General Conference.
The vision for this series is to…
I’ll be honest with you. This will be the most challenging sermon series I’ve ever encountered. So I covet your prayers during this time. My intent and goal is likely not what you think. I am NOT preaching to influence or debate a particular position.
My goal is simply (or not so simply) present information about the church, how we got to where we are, and to address the question of the Commission: “How might United Methodists bear witness to graceful and mutually respectful ways of living in the Wesleyan tradition amid enduring disagreements about same-gender relationships and related church practices?”
I’ll take it one step further: How do we as a church and as God’s people remain obedient to the authority of scripture while maintaining an attitude of holy compassion?
Join us for this series of messages.
“May you live in interesting times.”
Legend has it that this quote was originally a Chinese curse. One of a trinity of curses; the other two being, “May you come to the attention of those in authority,” and “May the gods give you everything you ask for.”
Well, we find ourselves living in interesting times, and I would propose to you that, in the church, this not a curse but an opportunity. In the midst of the rhetoric and chaos defining our time, I am finding people who have never sought after God are seeking. People who have never stepped inside a church are looking for truth and civilized decency, and thus the opportunity.
“Interesting times” are not unique, but when we study history, we find time and time again the church has been a force for God’s truth. The Dark Ages received its name honestly.
After the Roman Empire fell, chaos ruled. Factions developed, barbaric war broke out and an entire continent seemed lost. But one force prevented it: the church.
Instead of conforming to the barbaric culture of the time, marked by destruction and confusion, the medieval church was countercultural. As the chaos spread, thousands of mission houses opened all over Europe. They were characterized by discipline, creativity and order lacking in the world around them.
Monks opened schools and shelters for orphans, widows and paupers. Hospitals and farms were established as well as roads cut and bridges built. People were drawn not so much by the hospitality and compassion, but by the discipline and dedication of these religious missions.
By holding fast to the basics of a civilized society – faith in Christ, education and civility – the monks and nuns brought light into the darkness of the age, and eventually Europe emerged from the Dark Ages into a renewed time of cultural creativity, education and art.
Today’s “interesting times” are just as dark, and the world seems more sophisticated than when Rome was destroyed. But today’s barbarians wear pinstripes instead of animal skins, and pretend to entertain while, in reality, enabling divisions, lies and darkness.
Like the mission communities of the Middle Ages, is it time for the church to serve as mission outposts of truth, decency and civilization in the darkening culture of our “interesting times”?
In yet another example of irrational behavior and youthful impulsiveness, a 24-year-old professional baseball player is dealing with the logical consequences of hateful and inflammatory posts to Twitter he made as a 17-year-old.
Josh Hader is an all-star relief pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers. On July 17, as he was pitching in the All-Star Game, someone anonymously re-posted Hader’s 7-year-old inciting tweets. He first became aware of this after he left the game. To his credit, in a postgame interview, he didn’t deny or try to justify his actions, but held himself accountable (as opposed to whoever reposted Hader’s comments who hid behind a pseudonym, but I digress). He has since met with and offered contrite and tearful apologies to his teammates, coaches, and Major League Baseball executives. “These were never my beliefs,” he said. “I was young. I was saying stuff out of ignorance and that’s just not what I meant.”
I don’t know whether or not Josh Hader is a Christian, but I admire the way he has handled himself the last few days. Let’s be clear about this: I am in no way endorsing or agreeing with what he said in his post, (If you would like to read the content of the posts, use Google. I personally find the comments too distasteful to even quote here), but who among us can’t empathize with Josh?
Jesus invited a crowd of accusers, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” (John 8:7) Maybe it’s just me, but I’m thankful that I was not the same person at 24 that I was at 17 (and for that matter, that I’m not the same person today that I was at 24). Do any of you want to be 17 again? At 17, I had more answers than questions. 40 years later, I find myself with more questions than answers.
So what do we learn from this?
Think before you post…
Proverbs 15:1-2 says, A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.
At some point, we’ve all played the role of the fool. I learned a long time ago never to respond emotionally. Think about the long-term implications before you hit the “post” or “send” button, and, if possible, wait 24 hours before doing it.
Remember there is no “unsend” button.
Take responsibility for your actions and words.
Galatians 6:4-5 reads, All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. 5 For all must carry their own loads.
These word precede the classic “we reap what we sow” in Galatians 6:8. Along with Josh, we feel the weight of our actions that hurt others. Following Jesus means that we commit all our actions and words to him. Are your actions and words honoring Christ today?
Children and youth NEED mentors and guides.
It’s interesting to me that, by law, people need to be a certain age to drive, vote, join the armed forces, and purchase cigarettes and alcohol. Why? Because we understand that they are still children who lack the cognitive and emotional maturity to make responsible decisions. But anyone with a computer or cell phone can post any message they want to the world.
There’s no guarantee that, even if a youth has a mentor, they won’t do or say (or post) something stupid. But this event lifts up the fact that all children and youth have a need for solid role models in their lives. Kids will be kids, but more than once, I’ve had to remind someone (even a few adults) that their pastor is reading their posts.
You are never too old to help influence a child. The Psalmist pleaded with God to use him for the sake of the next generation: Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, ‘til I declare your power to the next generation. Your might to all who are to come. (Psalm 71:18)
Remember the lesson of the marbles: every Sunday matters and we’re playing for keeps.
Nobody is beyond the reach of God’s grace.
Romans 8:31-39 says exactly this: Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
I’ve heard it too many times: “God won’t forgive me for what I’ve done.” Don’t believe that lie. Nothing and nobody is beyond the reach of God’s grace. As Josh was pitching in the All Star game that night, there was also someone in the stands holding a sign that said, “John 3:16.”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
If you want to post some good news that you will never need to apologize for, post this!
Whatever is in your past, God is willing to leave it there. Will you let Him?
A day doesn’t seem to go by without news or opinions about what is happening at the Mexican-American border. As many of you do, I often feel helpless and overwhelmed about how to respond. If you heard the sermon on June 24, you heard part of a response – to care, to pray, and to ask how we can help those working closest to the situation.
Our own Bonnie Albert and I have been corresponding over the last week about this and below is her most recent, and insightful response. Bonnie is well connected with agencies and missionaries through her ministry. We, as United Methodists, are connected to a wider church and are in a position to help make a difference.
Please read Bonnie’s response and prayerfully consider your next step in this crisis. May God continue to provide His insight and wisdom.
Sometimes trusting those in the trenches is a way forward. They have done the vetting, they have been doing this for a long time and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. We can financially support groups we trust.
April 18, 2018
On Maundy Thursday, Rev. Kate Walker was the keynote speaker at the UMW breakfast. The title of her talk was “At the Table,” but she apparently didn’t want us confused. She opened her talk by mentioning that she would not be commenting on the “Commission on a Way Forward.” I was a little surprised that no one reacted or asked me about it following the meeting.
If you’re not aware, the Commission on a Way Forward is a 32-member group appointed by action of the 2016 General Conference, to assist the Council of Bishops (the group who oversees the United Methodist Church) to lead the church forward amid the present impasse related to LGBTQ inclusion and resulting questions about the unity of the United Methodist Church.
The report from this commission has been presented to the Council of Bishops and will be released to the general public before July 8. There are times planned at our Indiana Annual Conference (June 7 & 8) for “Critical Conversations” with our delegates to General Conference. Later this summer, our own Bishop Julius Trimble will be holding information and discussion meetings in each district so be watching for more detailed information.
A final decision will be made at a called General Conference planned for February 23-26 in St. Louis.
The pastors of First United Methodist Church have discussed this topic and are planning to provide a forum for discussion and Christian Conferencing of the report and to pray for the delegates representing our Indiana Conference. Details are forthcoming, but it is being planned to take place after Labor Day.
As we anticipate this time in the life of our church, the most important thing I would like to communicate to our leaders and the church is that, no matter what happens at our Conferences, WE will model 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.
REGARDLESS OF WHAT HAPPENS outside this church, WE WILL:
February 13, 2018
Back on January 13, 30 hearty souls braved the early morning snow to gather in Tower Chapel to worship, learn and talk about leadership and the church. There was time for reflection and discussion as we learned about doing ministry “off the map” and how this might look at First United Methodist Church. (To hear my sermon based on our learnings, go to our website or our Facebook page, and listen to “Off the Map” on February 4).
The theme for the day was drawn from Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 14:12 – “I tell you the truth: whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
We live in an amazing time when we can still do “greater things” for God’s Kingdom.
An exercise I’ve found helpful over the years is called a SWOT Analysis. At our event, the group was divided into six smaller groups at tables and were asked to take about 8 minutes for each section; identifying the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats at First Church.
While a SWOT Analysis is not a perfect tool, it gives us an opportunity to share thoughts and identify areas of hope and common ground. It gives us a picture of the church at this point in time. It helps us identify our current reality…which, really, is a function of leadership. Business leader and author Max DuPree wrote, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”
The list this group generated ended up to be pretty long. Your responses may differ, but the table groups agreed in many areas. Every table group found some common ground – not in all areas, but here are the top five responses identified during this exercise:
Strengths: Location/visibility Mission-oriented People (quality of talent & leadership) Quality staff Facilities
Weaknesses: Income/finances Internal conflicts (i.e. trust, communications) Lack of volunteers (a few people doing most of the work) Fewer younger people/children Sunday school & adult education
Opportunities: University outreach Youth & college-age Communication Partnering with other churches Invite & involve more people
Threats: Revenue Outside activities infringing on worship & activities Increasing secularism Insider language/cliqueiness Mind set of maintaining status quo Aging congregation Apathy Losing mission focus
So the natural question is, “What’s next?” It’s an interesting list, but what do we do with it? (good question)
The next step is to use this for a process of identifying gaps and developing goals, and a strategic plan for the next few years. Weaknesses can be changed into strengths. The trick is doing this in such a way that identified strengths don’t become weaknesses. This is the beginning of a process of developing goals that are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and timely. If you like acrostics, these spell “smart.”
I believe Jesus has a plan for His bride and I believe Jesus has a plan for this church. My prayer is that you and I (and we) are open and obedient to this plan as it is revealed to us AND that we have the courage to adapt and implement His plan for us. Will you join me in this prayer?
Doing ministry is challenging. Doing it in a new setting can be trying. The very first line in William Bridges’ book, “Managing Transitions” is “It’s not the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” My experience is that the people of the church make all the difference when it comes to helping transitions go well.
At First United Methodist Church, 2017 has been a year of changes and transition. There is a new Senior Pastor (yours truly) beginning July 1; a new Pastor of Visitation (Rev. Dee Miller) who began duties on July 15, and a new Director of Choirs (Christopher Ebert) who began on August 16. We are all transitioning together.
There is a fourth staff position that has been open for a long time. With all due respect to the rest of our great staff, I believe that the leader of youth is the most important in the church today. And I think most of you do as well. I’ve heard the comments loud and clear:
“We need youth leadership!”“We need youth leadership NOW!”“We need dynamic youth leadership!”“We need a youth leader teenagers can connect with!”“We want a dynamic youth program!”“Our church needs a solid youth program and leadership!”
In my short time here, it’s obvious that a solid youth program is important to you and to this church.
The good news is that we may be close to hiring a solid leader for our youth program. Someone who loves Jesus, loves His church, loves leading youth and has experience in leading a program that builds leaders.
I’ve been down this road a few times and here’s what I’ve learned:
Remember, change is a part of our everyday life. It’s the transitions that can do us in.
How can you help this transition go well? There are several ways:
I’m excited about the prospects for ministry here in 2018. Let’s all transition together.
Pastor Kevin MillerDecember 6, 2017
Has the world gone nuts in the last couple weeks, or is it just me? I’m not as outspoken on social causes as many of my colleagues but allow me to make an observation.
Although I “grew up” during the 1970’s, I was heavily influenced by the turmoil of the ‘60’s. You see, my oldest brother served in Vietnam, so even though I was young, I became socially aware of the world around me. The news was dominated by demonstrations against the war and made statements like, “Question authority!” and “Don’t trust anyone over the age of 30!” Reflecting on it became part of my family’s dinner conversation.
I don’t remember either of my parents saying this, or exactly when, where or how I developed this thought, but here goes: All those demonstrations and riots and pickets and protests didn’t accomplish anything. Using violence to react to violence has never ended well…and I don’t think it ever will.
Understand I’m not talking about limiting anyone’s freedom to assemble and state their opinion. In the midst of all this turmoil, I remember a simple, but powerful lesson: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In other words, in this country, anyone has the right to express their opinion…whether I personally agree with it or not. No matter how stupid or misguided someone’s opinion is…they have the right to express it. And reacting violently to another person’s opinions doesn’t change anything.
During the 1960’s, there was one man with a different vision who used something more powerful – a peaceful use of a biblical worldview. Martin Luther King brought about change by encouraging non-violence; by promoting peace and by intercepting hate in exchange for love. And he died for the sake of that cause. Centuries ago, a man by the name of Jesus of Nazareth used the same strategy and his death and resurrection changed the world
If you really want to change the world around you, get to know this Jesus. During his final discussion with his disciples, he told them, “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27 NLT) Allow this gift to work in you.
Peace in this world is usually defined as the absence of conflict. The peace of Christ is confident assurance in any circumstance. The world around us focuses on sin, fear, uncertainty, doubt and so many other forces at war within us. Jesus said he will give us this peace if we are willing to accept it from him. This is the peace that really does go beyond our understanding, and that truly changes hearts to transform the world. What do you think?
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
St. Francis of Assisi
Some days you have to take a deep breath with a very long exhale. It’s already August and I feel like I’ve been here a very long time. This has been the summer of change for the Miller household. The summer is just half-over and here’s what’s happened:
You know, when I list everything, it seems overwhelming. One of the staff pointed out that we experienced the three top producers of stress in life all since summer began: new job, a move and the death of a loved one. I didn’t really need to know that!
But God continues to bless us with favor. God blessed us with precious time with Alan during his last days. We talked, we prayed, we laughed and we cried, and I can only hope that if I ever find myself with a similar diagnosis as Alan, that I can face death with the same grace, courage and humor as he did.
God blessed us with safety during our move. Everything went well; we all arrived safely and nothing was broken.
God blessed us with family and friends. Mid-July was a whirlwind with the blessing of seeing Liz’s family for a couple days in Wisconsin and then speaking at Alan’s funeral in Decatur. What a feeling of love and support from extended family we seem to only see at funerals anymore, and spending a few minutes with life-long friends.
Finally, God has blessed us with wonderful churches. This is the body of Christ at work. The people and staff of Valparaiso First have been so loving and supportive and understanding during this time. We will never forget your graciousness and love during a stressful transition. You have made it go smoothly and for this we will be forever grateful.
Because of the body of Christ in action; because of Jesus and because of love, I end my long exhale with the prayer, GOD IS GOOD!
Pastor KevinAugust 9, 2017