Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Little Ones

15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16 But Jesus called for them and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."

--Luke 18:9-17

Sunday at Advent was a wonderful celebration of Children’s Sabbath.  Children’s Sabbath is a Sunday designed to help us focus on ministry with children and, in particular, to advocate for children around the world who live in terrible conditions and perennial danger.  
It was simply wonderful to see so many of our children lead us in worship on Sunday.  I know that I was not alone as I beamed with pride at being part of a church that values children’s ministry so highly.  
In the afterglow of a wonderful morning, I received an email that I wanted to share with the entire congregation: 
...We were returning yesterday [Saturday] from a long planned vacation to be with both of our families in Florida.  We had a great trip, but ran hard all week.  Can't remember a night we had our kids in bed before 11 and many times it was much later than that.  Finally loaded up and left yesterday [Saturday]morning around 10:30 am for the road trip home.  By about the halfway point, all of us were pretty tired, and frankly a bit cranky.  My wife and I were ready to throw in the towel and stop for the night.  Not just one or two of our kids, but all three of our kids insisted we keep going.   All three wanted to be in church the next day for Children's Sabbath services, because they each had a part in the services.  We agreed to keep going, IF everyone behaved in the van.  Sure enough, the kids settled down, I started chugging the caffeine, and we made it home around 10 pm last night.  I can't ever remember as a kid having my parents use church attendance as a reward for good behavior.... 

The kids were all pretty wiped out when we got them down late last night.  My wife and I, again, agreed that we wouldn't push them to go in the morning if they couldn't get out of bed.  Again, all 3 were up and ready to go.

So thank you for all you are doing for our kids.  You've got them engaged and wanting to be there.  We're really blessed to be at a church with such phenomenal children's programs.
Isn’t it wonderful to be a part of church where children are so engaged?

Pastor Michael

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hindering Jesus

1 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.

--Mark 2:1-4

Every preacher I know of loves to know that they have been heard.  In fact, as a preacher myself, I can think of no greater joy than learning that God has used my half-baked thoughts and inadequate words to speak to someone in a way that inspires them on their faith journey.  That’s why I was thrilled to receive an email yesterday reflecting on our sermon from Sunday.  Upon reading the reflection, I had two thoughts: 1) Wow!  I wish I had let him preach, and 2) I have to share this with the Advent UMC family.
So, I have decided to turn over my blog for the moment to Will Randall, a sophomore at Mauldin High School, who has articulated some wonderful insights.  You won’t be able to tell that will is a high school student, as he is obviously wise FAR beyond his years.  I am confident that you will be challenged by his thoughts.
Will, thank you for being attentive to the Holy Spirit AND thank you for sharing your thoughts with us all.  

Pastor Michael
Crowd Syndrome
by Will Randall

This past Sunday, Pastor Michael pointed out the fact that sometimes we act as “the crowd”, and inadvertently prevent people who really need Jesus from being able to access Him. This sermon topic really caused me to reflect upon my own life and what I see happen in the world around me in terms of unintentional exclusion and lack of mindfulness.  Simply put, humans are creatures of habit and comfort. We become accustomed to a certain close group of friends-at school, work, etc.- and tend to stay within that group without really thinking about it. We go about our business, comfortable around the people in our friend groups, and fail to see those who stand by themselves. By acting out of habit and associating with our close friends day after day, there are inevitably people who are pushed to the side and excluded. It saddens me to say that I see this phenomenon occur not only at school, where it is somewhat expected, but also at church. 
In Sunday school, at youth group, even at worship services-individuals pass under the radar and are unintentionally left out. I find that most of the time this exclusion happens not out of cold-heartedness, but out of the failure to intentionally look out for and reach out to those who may not have found that same community that some, including myself, oftentimes feel. As we robotically associate with our same friends time and time again, we essentially act as the crowd. We stand together in community with some; however, we simultaneously fail to be mindful and we exclude others who may need that sense of community (and who ultimately may need Jesus) the most. 
I feel that many times in this life our greatest sins aren’t results of our actions, but are results of our failures to act. The example of the crowd functions as a representative of this idea. While no direct trespasses occur through our actions of repetitive association, we remain at fault in the end because of our failure to be intentionally inclusive of others. 
I feel that this “crowd syndrome”, as I like to call it, is in desperate need of a cure. To me, the way to eradicate this sickness is simply stated, but difficult to do. As people living for Christ, it is imperative that we be meticulously mindful and intentionally inclusive. In the spirit of Pastor Turner, why don’t you try turning to two or three of your neighbors today and not just tell them that, but show them that kind of mindful inclusiveness? Crowd syndrome affects vast proportions of today’s world. I challenge you, as well as myself, to make a conscious effort to break the mold of this habit, being meticulously mindful about those around us and being intentionally inclusive of those who don’t quite feel a sense of community yet instead. It’s easier said than done-but every great wave of change has started with a single ripple.  Be that first ripple.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Connect to Others

23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

--Ephesians  4:25-32

There is strength in numbers.  You have to look no further than nature to have that truth confirmed.  Birds and sheep travel in flocks.  Geese are part of a gaggle.  Many different types of prey animals live in herds.  Hyenas form cackles.  Even the king of the jungle, the lion, is not solitary.  It exists as a part of a pride.  All these natural social networks provide strength and protection. 
In order to hunt more efficiently, predators generally go to great lengths to separate their prey from its group.  The reason is self-evident: There is great strength in numbers.  
The same thing is true for Christians.  As we said on Sunday, “There is direction and protection in connection.”  We need each other on this journey of faith for encouragement, prayer, accountability, and “positive provocation.”  When it comes to being Church, Andy Stanley says, “Circles are greater than rows.”  In other words, worshiping on Sunday in rows, all facing the front, is important, but life transformation, direction, and protection happen when we are engaged in small groups which meet in circles, facing each others--groups whose members share life together.
So, are you connected?  If not I hope you will consider finding a Sunday school class or small group to which to connect.  Click here to see opportunities at Advent UMC.  Give it a try.  Maybe give several a try to find where you best fit, but find connection with other Christians.  We all need that connection.  In fact, we were created for it.

Pastor Michael