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.
AN OPEN LETTER TO WHOEVER HAPPENS TO READ THIS…
From: Kevin T. Miller, ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church since 2006, currently serving as Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Valparaiso, Indiana
The United Methodist General Conference held last week in St. Louis has come to a close, and the last few days have gone…well, I hate to say it, but I told you so:
If you are not aware, after much debate – which was rarely civil and often embarrassingly contentious – the delegates (representing churches on five continents) voted to adopt the “Traditional Plan” which maintains the language of the UM Discipline that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and prohibits self-avowed homosexuals from being ordained as clergy as well as our sanctuaries being used for same-sex weddings. Clergy are also prohibited from officiating in such ceremonies.
This section of the Discipline has been debated with passion and conviction at every General Conference since 1972 (the UMC was created in 1968 by a merger of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church). But, regardless of where you fall on this particular issue, what has never been debated is what we still hold to be a non-negotiable truth: All persons are of sacred worth, created in the image of God.
If in any way, this decision has hurt you or made you feel that you are “less than” anyone else, know that your value to God through Jesus Christ has no boundaries; know that you truly are a person of sacred worth and you matter to God; you matter to the church, and you matter to me. No matter what decision is made in any area of General Conference, this will always be non-negotiably true.
One of the challenges that comes with being the Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Valparaiso, Indiana is the wide diversity of theology and thought in the pews. Since the decision, I have had conversations with some who enthusiastically support the vote; with some who strongly disagree with the decision, and with a few who are personally devastated and are rethinking their commitment to this church.
Interesting factoid: The diversity of this church – more so than any church I’ve been connected with – reflects the diversity of the global United Methodist Church. And to me, that is a strength. If General Conference proved anything, it is that there is a wide diversity of deeply held opinions. We are a small part of a global church, which includes the growing church in Africa, where homosexuality is a crime in 37 countries. I’m not saying this is right; I’m pointing it out as a reality. We are part of a world-wide ministry which means we stand with and support churches doing ministry in completely different contexts than our own.
The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, is often (incorrectly) attributed with writing, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things love.” This thought didn’t originate with Wesley, but it is powerful and applicable for us in the church in 2019. So what is essential? I believe four things are absolutely essential in today’s church:
This should define us as a people and as a church. Let us continue to be about the essential work of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
In a spirit of collaboration, peace, unity and love,
The term “Lent” comes from an Anglo-Saxon word, which means “spring.” Traditionally, it has been used as a time of fasting and preparation for Easter. This year, Lent at First United Methodist Church will be a time of worship, growth and reflection. There will be multiple opportunities for you to participate and grow. You can join in every opportunity or select those that fit into your schedule best. In any case, you are invited take advantage of these opportunities as a way of building your relationship with Jesus.
Common Daily Devotional Copies of the book, Divine Friendship will be available at the Events Desk in Fellowship Hall. Each book is $11. Take time daily to spend time with Jesus and renew and strengthen your friendship with him. This encouraging book reminds us that we are beloved children of a God who deeply desires friendship with us. Each daily meditation helps us realize that through friendship with God we will satisfy our hearts’ yearnings.
Wed., March 6 Ash Wednesday Services 12:15 p.m. & 7:00 p.m.
Worship Series begins Sunday, March 10 with the theme, The Man from Galilee focusing on different aspects of Jesus from the perspective of Matthew. Join us every Sunday morning at 8:00, 9:15 or 11:00.
20-Minutes with God – Every Wednesday during Lent..
We are joining three other churches and the Valparaiso Family YMCA to provide a truly unique ecumenical worship experience during the season of Lent. Join us for 20-Minutes with God every Wednesday beginning at 12:00 noon as we worship with other faith communities and break bread together. The format will be a short worship service followed by a light meal and fellowship. A freewill offering will help offset the cost of the meal. You are also asked to bring a non-perishable food item that will help our area food pantries. Join us:
March 13 – First United Methodist Church, 103 Franklin St.
March 20 – St. Paul’s Catholic Church, 1855 Harrison Blvd.
March 27 – Living Hope Community Church, 1115 Calumet Ave.
April 3 – Trinity Lutheran Church, 201 N. Washington St.
April 10 – Valpo Family YMCA, 1201 Cumberland Crossing
Study Groups – Brand: New – a 5-session study written and presented by Andy Stanley.
How should the world view the church? Unfortunately, we’ve created a brand for the church that Jesus never intended. But we have the opportunity to give everyone a Brand: New perspective.
The study is provided as a follow-up to the three Saturday morning conversations that took place on November 11, January 5, and March 2. How is God calling us as a church and how can we re-create ourselves to reach the next generation?
This class will be offered at two different times:
Fridays at 10:00 a.m. beginning March 15 and ending April 12. Led by Pastor Dee Miller and Janice Harris.
Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. beginning March 20 and ending April 17. Led by Pastor Kevin.
If you miss a session, you can watch the week’s lesson on Right Now Media or at northpoint.org/messages/brand-new/
HOLY WEEK SCHEDULE –
Thursday, April 18 Holy Thursday Communion Service at 12:15 p.m.
Walk With Jesus begins at 6:00 p.m.
EVERYONE is invited to this is a powerful, interactive, multi-sensory event that will guide you through Jesus’ last week on earth. Designed especially for family members to experience together; this event will help all of us discover Easter in a new and unforgettable way.
Families will gather in upper Wesley Hall and – (1) travel to Jerusalem for Palm Sunday; (2) sit down to witness the Last Supper; (3) pray in the garden of Gethsemane; (4) discover the sacrifice of Good Friday, and (5) celebrate freedom from sin at the empty tomb on the first Easter morning! Join us as we bring Jesus’ last week to life!
Want to be part of bringing this event to life? Come to planning meeting at the church on Tuesday, February 19 at 6:00 p.m.
Friday, April 19 Good Friday Cantata & Tenebrae Service at 7:00 p.m.
The Seven Last Days performed by our Choir
Sunday, April 21 Resurrection Sunday Celebration at 8:00, 9:15 & 11:00 a.m.
I'm excited about the opportunities for growth as winter turns to spring and we celebrate God's gift of His Son. Join us!
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.
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