Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Church: What it is and is not

This is the first time that I am writing for many differing venues. I am writing for both newsletters for the Elkhorn Valley and the Great West. I will be putting this article on the Facebook page for the Elkhorn Valley District and on my blog at This is appearing in the August newsletters. August is that time of year of the summer activities beginning to wind down, schools beginning classes, and the last-minute trips for families. It is also a time for churches to begin their preparations for the fall. As a pastor, I often looked forward as we began the process of planning worship, ministries, small groups, and classes for the upcoming year. It is also a time to begin to work on areas of budget, lay leadership, and preparing the leadership of the churches. I want to remind all churches that now is the time to begin to work on budgets for next year and to look at the structure of the committees or teams prior to charge conferences which are just around the corner. The key is to begin now and not procrastinate to the last minute.
                I wanted to share with you some thoughts that I have had regarding church and what it is and what it is not. I had read on Facebook (I’m sorry that I did not note it when I read it) an article written by a younger pastor that was titled, “Why going to church is not important.” Initially I thought that this would yet another article about how to reach the millennials through social media, streaming videos, and other devices to encourage the individualistic experience of worship. Normally I would pass this type of article which is often a diatribe about how church is failing, but instead I thought I would read fully prepared to be apologetic quoting Hebrews 10:25, “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near. (CEB)” I wanted to point the importance of meeting together and in the encouragement and sharing with one another. Just as I was ready to comment, the author turned the idea upside down. He said in effect that going to church was not important as he realized he is the church. What a concept that a change of proposition would make in the outlook of what church is. It is not that we go to church but we are the church. That famous camp song, “I am the church/You are the church/ We are the church together.”
                I thought about what that may mean if we would focus more on what the author of Hebrews stated, “encourage each other,” rather than going to something as if something is being done to and for us. What if we could take seriously what Paul says in Romans 12 and most succinctly in 1 Corinthians 12, that we are the body of Christ each of us bestowed with our unique gifts to be used to make disciples of Jesus. Church than becomes both a gathering of fellow believers (ecclesia) and encouraging, equipping, and evangelizing (koinonia). Rather than pursuing the individualistic fervor of church, much like the televangelists, we need to recognize the importance of what church is and what it offers. Church is more than the pastor, the musicians, the media, the PowerPoint it is about we together. Church works best when we consider that each of us is the church and we become the church when we work together. When we can do this, be the 1 Corinthians 12 Christians, the church is able to do so much more. If we spend time just looking at church as to what is in it for me, the church fails. We need to work together to provide a means to evangelize and make disciples.
                Therefore, the conference is in the process of developing network teams to provide resources to help strengthen the churches in their networks. The teams will consist of a lay network leader and a clergy network leader who will be trained to work with a network of churches. Each church’s team would include the lay leader and the clergy, who will work with the network leaders in ways to become more vital in their ministries with the partnership of clergy and lay leadership. For the Great West, these teams have been in place. We will be working on continuing to build the teams. For Elkhorn Valley, this will be something new (in reality it is something old, class meetings, societies, and bands.) The leaders for clergy have been asked and the training will be in August. I am looking forward to this exciting partnership to help build the body of Christ for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus to transform the world.
Until next time, blessings
Rev. Eldon Davis, District Superintendent of Elkhorn Valley and Great West Districts.    

Monday, March 6, 2017

I was to give the devotion to the appointive cabinet last week. As I was reflecting and praying on what to say, I was caught by the scripture which I will share below. Before I share, I reflected on the practices that many have for the season of Lent. For many, this is the time of year that people will fast from either food (i.e. certain sweets or for me brussel sprouts), watching TV or abstaining from the Internet, spending time with family, or working on commitments to the spiritual disciplines. Some will save the money that they would spend on their lattes and use that money to help various charities. Others will take time to divest themselves of items that they no longer use or need and donate them to organizations that can benefit from them.
All the above are wonderful works and certainly I encourage each and every one. Fasting no matter how one does it reminds us of our need to always take time to focus on our relationship to God and to neighbor. Yet, some make sure that everyone is aware of the sacrifice that they are making. I am concerned as to why someone needs to advertise what they have chosen to do. They are practicing good spiritual disciplines and for the most it is life-changing. But do we need to let the world know about it. Jesus often criticizes the Pharisees as they go about making a great show of their fasting. They wear pained faces and seem to go about saying look at what I am doing. I have to confess I include myself at times in the same way. How often I would say things about what I have done especially in church growth or service, when it really was God who was instrumental. As I continued to reflect and pray about this, I began to think as to not just what I was doing and how I was doing it, but also as to why am I doing this.
Maybe that is the crux of the matter. It is important to be reminded of what Jesus has done and his journey to the cross. Am I doing this in this light or am I doing this was a quid pro quo relationship with God. If I do this, am I more righteous? If that is the case than I have become like the Pharisee who in the Luke 18 stated, “Thank God I am not like that tax collector.” If I obey the letter of the law, then my sense of salvation is complete, or is it? I am than coming close to works righteousness which can be for me a heresy. Works are important but it is my relationship with God through Jesus that is my righteousness. Remembering that I am called to love God and to love my neighbor. How is my fasting or anyone’s fasting tied to that love? Do I a fast for myself or as a way of remembering the love God has shown me through his son? This strikes me as to the why of spiritual disciplines.
The scripture that I used came from the Isaiah. First some context of the scripture. This is often considered part of second Isaiah. It is believed to have been written as the exiles were returning from Babylon. They were returning to devastation and no community. Many who were displaced had no resources of food or shelter. For those who had resources many were just using them for themselves. Most were pious in form, fasting and sacrifices. For some they had lost sight of the why and the sharing with others.
Isaiah 58:1-12The Message (MSG)
Your Prayers Won’t Get Off the Ground
58 1-3 “Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
    face my family Jacob with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
    and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’
3-5 “Well, here’s why:
“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
    You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
    won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
    and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
    a fast day that I, God, would like?
6-9 “This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’
A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places
9-12 “If you get rid of unfair practices,
    quit blaming victims,
    quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
    and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
    your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
    I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
    firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
    a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
    rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
    restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
    make the community livable again. 
            When I read this passage, regardless of the translation, I hear not only God’s voice but the voice of our Savior. In John Wesley’s notes, “we cover our wickedness with the profession of religion. We know God’s will and word, yet do not conform our lives as if we are righteous.” This is echoed in Matthew 25 where the final judgment comes and did we do it for those who have nothing knowing we are doing it for Christ. This is what Lent is for me. So maybe this Lent I take time to pray, not gossip, not blame others, clothe those who are without, and take real time with my family and with my church. Then our light will shine forth and we can restore not just our buildings but our lives.
            May this Lent be one of repentance, remembering, and one of action. For we have been blessed by so much, let us share that with others.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Today as I think about all that I have to be thankful, it sometimes overwhelms me as to how blessed I am. Not only with my children and their spouses but also with my grandchildren. I am blessed with doing what I love which is to be a servant for a loving God and Savior whose grace not only extends to me but to all people. The Psalmist says to give thanks to the Lord and so should we. I know that as I gather around the table I will bow my head to offer thanks. I will also be in prayers for those that I know and those that I don't know for God's peace and grace to be with them.

I am also reminded that Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, the anticipation of Jesus' coming and of his birth. For indeed he is the prince of peace, king of kings, wonderful counselor, and messiah. If there is anyway of bringing together people of diverse ideology, ethnic diversity, and even theological differences, it is Jesus. Just as he brought together Samaritans, Pharisees, Sadducee, Gentiles, and even Roman soldiers, so he too can bring together all of us. This time of year is more than family but to remember we are all members of a greater family, brothers and sisters together. So maybe the greatest remembrance is a Black Friday not of consumerism but of sacrifice. The gift we have received, let us share with those around us both in words and deeds.

Monday, May 30, 2016

May 30 2016

Pre-conference thoughts:
I am in the office as I prepare to go to Annual conference this year in Topeka. I was reflecting on all that has happened in the last three weeks at General Conference as well as people’s reactions from both the conservative “evangelical” side as well as the progressive “liberal” side. What I have not heard much from are the moderate “centralists.” We talk about the silent majority whose voice is not often sought or heard from. There are a few who speak out as moderates and work towards the unity of the United Methodist Church in whatever that may look like in the future.
But I digress. What struck me most was the slogan of the General Conference. The slogan was “Therefore Go!”  I was struck by the simplicity of the statement and also by the implications of what that statement means. Several questions arise such as go where? When? What? As I reflected on that I came across some notes of a sermon I had done on the Great Commission Matthew 28:16-20. The title of the sermon was Ready, Set, and Go. Maybe it will provide some insight to answer the questions of where are we going? And most of all to whom are we going to give the Good News of Christ and the grace that God offers to all people.
Ready Set Go
Matthew ends the gospel with the commission that Jesus gives to his disciples and now gives to all of us. The original eleven had been with Jesus for three years. They have prepared themselves to proclaim the love of God and love of neighbor. They had eaten with Jesus and also in the houses of those whom society judged (as well as the righteous) as unworthy. The ministry was like a roller coaster with its highs and lows. Here the gospel is following the resurrection and the witness of the women. Now the remaining disciples find themselves at the mountain to witness their savior and receive his last commands.
I read an article regarding this text in Working Preacher on-line.[1] The article was talking about the efforts to live out this commission and that at times we may feel inadequate, uncertain, and ill prepared. Listen carefully to what we read in verses 16-17. There were only 11 left of the original disciples who came to worship but there were some who doubted. Even if doubting (read John 20:24-29 regarding Thomas) they came anyway. It strikes me that faith is not synonymous with certainty. We have at times felt uncertain in live, have made questionable decisions, and have faced criticism regarding who we are or what we believe. Doubt is often the result of such times. Yet faith is the assurance that despite one’s doubt, Jesus is the authority and bestows that authority onto ourselves through the Holy Spirit. Grace and mercy are gifts given without merit as well as the forgiveness of our sins.
Ready: So I believe the first step to carry out this last command is one of readiness. So how do we become ready? I am a baseball fan as well as player in my youth. My favorite team is the Pittsburgh Pirates. I have not had the opportunity to attend spring training. I have gone to AAA baseball game in Omaha and watched the future players for the Royals playing. I know from my experience that to succeed, no matter in what area, you have to learn the basics of what you do. I coached peewee teams and that was my focus. We cannot come to the plate and hit home runs every at bat. The more we learn and practice the better we become. This is true in life, in work, and in our spiritual development.
So how do we do that what it comes to church? What if instead of being distracted by, what John Wesley would say are the non-essentials, the church would focus church wide to prepare and ready the believers to know, to relate to others, and to share. According to the article many people feel unready to evangelize.[2] When I speak to people about sharing the gospel, many claim that they are not able to do so because of feeling unprepared, not scripturally informed, and lack knowledge of how to share. There are so many great opportunities to help people to know scripture and to open themselves to hear God’s call in their lives. My journey as a pastor in the United Methodist Church began with the Disciple Bible Study and the leadership of the group and pastors following. Though I was called at an early age, I, too, felt inadequate to pursue that call. Immersing myself in scriptural study, I accepted my call and the spiritual gifts that God has given me. The study of scripture especially from Genesis through Revelation helps ready ourselves and begins to see the bible not in piecemeal sound bites or verses taken out of context. Each person will hear their call and in many different opportunities such as Alpha, the Wesleyan Way, and other bible studies and small groups.
Ready, Set: Readiness is only a part of the preparation. Churches must decide whether they will become an active verb, doers of the word. How does each church respond to ways of reaching out to their communities? First is a season of prayers, bible studies, small groups, and through the presence with one another. Then and only then, does the church focus on developing their ministry action plan (MAP.) This is developing their sense of mission, vision, and setting goals.
The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world. Each church has to decide how they are going to be Disciples of Christ and live out his command in the lives of the people. Vision is how you as an active verb church live out the mission. When you read the letters of Paul, each of those communities were unique and different. They required a different way of developing their MAP. What steps do we need to do to accomplish our MAP? What steps need to be taken and how are we going to look at what worked and what did not work?
There are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is that there are no failures but just learning. The other is that when problems arise and we keep doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. We may need to give time for things to work.
Two: successful churches often do things church-wide. It is important to remember two aspects that were discussed in the book “Good to Great[3].” Those concepts were the idea of getting the right people on the bus and the hedgehog effect. Getting the right people on board is vital for ministry. Jesus had a number of followers but knew that there were 12 and now 11 who were the ones to take the gospel to others. We are all gifted but in different ways. There are some who are healers, preachers, teachers, good with finances, and some who are gifted in evangelism. How are you gifted and in what areas? How do we work together to reach others in the name of Christ? The hedgehog effect is to focus on what one is good at and to work on making that great. Jesus did that in his ministries and would not be sidetracked or scattered by side issues. If we are to go out to make disciples, we too need to focus on the MAP in everything we do from worship, education, finances, trustees, UMW, outreach, and small groups.
Ready Set Go: Church is now an active verb. With the MAP, the people of the church have readied themselves, the mission and vision is before us, now is the time to go out and live out the commission. As the gospel of Luke shows first in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaritan, and then to the rest of the world.
We begin at home in our own community. We carry out our MAP. We go to those we might not have thought about going to or even ones that one would not normally would approach. The Christian scriptures point to reaching those who were lepers, tax collectors, sinners, the sick, prisoners, the hungry, the thirsty, and the naked. We enter into relationship more than just charity but taking time to understand and not be fearful. We share the gospel in words and deeds. We plant seeds in the soil that God has already prepared. We teach and disciple. We become accountable in the way we live our lives. We baptize people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We prepare the next generation of disciples who will continue the command to make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world.
Is it easy? Not always. Is it necessary? Absolutely! Are we ready? With the help of the Spirit, yes.
Ready Set Go the course is laid out before us. Jesus gives us the authority through the Holy Spirit. We are ready. We are set. We go with the sure and certain knowledge that Jesus promise to be with us until for all time.
That was the text of the sermon. I would hope that we spend less time worrying about non-essentials and spend more time on Jesus.

[1] Commentary on Matthew 28:16-20 Craig Koester June 19 2011 viewed on May 30, 2016.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Good to Great, Jim Collins; Harper Business. 2001. Read chapters 3 and 5. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Bible Study March 5 2016

Nancy had received from a good friend a pamphlet about reading the bible chronologically in a year. There are daily readings which would lead someone through the scriptures Genesis through Revelation. I know that I have in the past felt that these readings were not at all chronological but as I looked at the readings there is some sense to it. I also came across another list at Susanna Wesley UMC in Topeka that were the same. So Nancy and I decided what if we would do this together. With my busy schedule, we decided to take our time and really reflect on what we are reading. When I am out of town we could Skype and talk about what we read. So I thought what if others wanted to share their insights and to spend time in scripture. I know what a difference I have seen in my life and in the lives of others who have done comprehensive bible studies like Disciple. So I will try on Saturdays to write something up and post it on Facebook. It will also be on my blog.
So here goes. The first readings for the week will be Genesis 1-11. This is the pre-history of the Israelite's dealing with the creation of the world ending with it being very good. Chapter 3-7 being very bad. A new start and once again failing to do what God has commanded. So take time to read, make notes, notice images and words that speak to you, and most of all take your time.
Also Nancy and I have the NIV Journaling Bible. This bible leaves room on the sides to make notes or to color images. I may share what mine looks like next Saturday.
Blessings and Shalom


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Epiphany January 6, 2016

An epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, "manifestation, striking appearance") is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. Epiphanies are studied by psychologists[1][2] and other scholars, particularly those attempting to study the process of innovation.[3][4][5]
Epiphanies are relatively rare occurrences and generally follow a process of significant thought about a problem. Often they are triggered by a new and key piece of information, but importantly, a depth of prior knowledge is required to allow the leap of understanding.[3][4][6][7] Famous epiphanies include Archimedes's discovery of a method to determine the density of an object ("Eureka!") and Isaac Newton's realization that a falling apple and the orbiting moon are both pulled by the same force. (Wikepedia)
Epiphany, also known as "Three Kings Day" and "Twelfth Day," is a Christian holiday commemorated on January 6. It falls on the twelfth day after Christmas, and for some denominations signals the conclusion of the twelve days of the Christmas season. Though many different cultural and denominational customs are practiced, in general, the feast celebrates the manifestation of God in the form of human flesh through Jesus Christ, his Son.
The word epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation" and is commonly linked in Western Christianity with the visit of the wise men (Magi) to the Christ child. Through the Magi, Christ revealed himself to the gentiles. In Eastern Christianity, Epiphany puts emphasis on the baptism of Jesus by John, with Christ revealing himself to the world as God's own Son. Likewise, on Epiphany some denominations commemorate Jesus' miracle of turning water into wine, signifying the manifestation of Christ's divinity as well. (About Religion)
Have you ever thought about what Epiphany means to you. Both the secular understanding and the Christian understanding are parallels to meaning for me. The ancient Greek roots are especially interesting, ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, "manifestation, striking appearance”. It is a sudden insight that just does not appear out of thin air but is a realization based on knowledge that we have and see in a new way.
Take Matthew 2 and the wise men. They were scholars of their time. They recognized before meeting Jesus, Mary and Joseph the significance of the star. Yet, they were not aware of the total picture until they arrived at Bethlehem. So we too are aware of the knowledge of our savior. Does the Natal Star shine in our lives? What is it we pursue? How do we take the knowledge we have about Christ and use that for epiphanies in our lives?
This year may be the challenge we face as to how we will live according to Christ. I would suggest thinking less about our resolutions and more about our faith. Increase your knowledge of God though bible study, small group participation, prayer, worship, and through receiving the sacraments.

Monday, January 4, 2016

January 4, 2016

I have been doing readings for an upcoming training that will happen at the end of the month. As I was reading, I began to reflect on some of the things that have occurred in the past year and carry over to this year. I remember (though I don’t recall where I had heard this) that history seems to repeat itself every 30-40 years. I decided to look back to the turning of the 20th century and progress forwards, though I have thought about similarities in 1890’s and 1860’s. In 1920’s the end of the First World War to end all wars occurred right before the 1920’s. After the war, the League of Nations was formed. We as a nation did not join as we were beginning to pull away from world events and become more isolationists. How this affected the rise of Nazi Germany is debatable. It was also a time of excess, rise of criminal cartels, and fear. Eventually the crash of the stock market and the beginnings of the Great Depression happened.

1950’s often a time we look back on with fond memories without looking closely at what was actually happening. This was a time of Senator McCarthy and his crusade to rid the US of any communists. Based on fear, the standard thought was that there was a communist under every bed with the sole aim of destroying our nation. There were drills to what we were to do in case of an atomic bomb explosion and the building of fallout shelters (not the romantic image of the video game). 

1980’s were the height of the agricultural crisis and economic meltdown. Inflation was out of control and there were fears of foreclosures and bankruptcies. Arms deals made through financing of our government to support rebels in Afghanistan such as Osama Bin Laden. Recovery was difficult and many farmers and ranchers ended up taking their lives rather than face the loss of farmland and ranchland that had been in their families for several generations.

And now 2010’s the second decade of the 21st century. The fears of terrorists mostly Muslims drive our politics. A new sense of McCarthyism is arising. Refusal to look at the domestic terrorists that exist in our nation is the standard. They are either insane or a militia who are patriotic. Children are not safe in our schools, on our streets, or even in our churches.
Maybe what is written in Ecclesiastes is right. There is nothing new under the sun. I wrote a poem/prose about this and attach below.

Qohelet says
There is nothing new under the sun
I wondered about what he said
Do we endlessly repeat it all
Deja vu all over again
I ponder times in my life that have the same themes
I look back and see historic themes repeat
Fear seems to underlie them all.
Is that what Qohelet meant
Is that why Jesus tells us to not be afraid
Yet times do change
And life is not a circle
With no beginning or end.
Life is a spiral ancient symbol of life
There is a beginning and end
To my life and to creation as well
As in a spiral we come back to our themes
But in a different place, a different time
Seeking new answers to our questions
And so it goes
One more turn of the spiral
Coming ever closer to the end
The spiral is not to be feared
But to grow from the answers we learn
So what have we learned?
Will it be Déjà vu
The answer is up to me and you.