From the Pastor

From the Pastor

Each year the gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent treats “the little apocalypse.” Mark is our earliest gospel, written during the Roman siege of Jerusalem (66-70 ce). As Israel attempted to escape oppressive rule, the Romans besieged Jerusalem, causing starvation and the destruction of both the city and the Temple. Many resisters were executed following the siege, often by crucifixion. Some saw this as a sign of the end. Some hoped that Jesus would return to restore justice. This is reflected in Mark 13. Matthew and Luke copied Mark, incorporating the little apocalypse into their gospels. The little apocalypse acknowledges the longing for the return of Jesus who would make things right. Advent prepares us for the coming of the Christ child. But Advent always begins with the possibility of Jesus returning to restore justice.

All past predictions of the return of Jesus have been wrong. Traditional teaching that Jesus would return soon has led to a credibility problem for the church. Every misguided prediction is rationalized away. The timing of “soon” is repeatedly redefined. But is the fervent hope that Jesus might one day return simply misguided? Why did it persist in the early church of imperial Rome?

The desire that Jesus return was nothing less than the desire expressed in the Lord’s Prayer: “… thy will be done on earth…” First century Christians understood the principalities and powers of the world to be corrupt and unjust. The lone super power was crushing ninety percent of people through land grabs, taxation and threat of violence. With a Second Advent Jesus would bring peace with Justice for those abused by the rich and powerful. The hope that Jesus would return may have been misguided but I understand why first century Christians hoped it would happen. If the rule of Rome is oppressive, the longing for God’s rule grows.

As we prepare again for the first coming, think about what a second coming might look like. What John Dominic Crossan calls “the great cosmic clean-up” could be shocking. Jesus might do some house cleaning. But where to start? Washington? Wall Street? Syria? North Korea? The Church? What might say to me? Would Jesus agree with the way we have been doing things? If he did come back would we see less greed and more generosity? Maybe we wouldn’t need so many guns. Or ballistic missiles. Hatred and prejudice might give way to cooperation. Telling the truth might become important again. The health care problem would probably get solved. Politics might become more compassionate. There are real reasons to hope for a Second Advent of Christ.

I doubt that Jesus will come back. But it is extremely hard to prove that something cannot possibly happen sometime in the future. So what if he did come back? What would that look like? What would change?

From the Pastor

What Would Jesus Carry?

I once visited a church just to see if it was really true. I had been told by some members of my church that a church not too far from ours had ushers who carried guns. I went to check it out. All the ushers were men. They all wore suits. None had a gun strapped to their hip. They kept their coats buttoned, though. And they never sat down. They did appear vigilant. Or maybe that was my imagination. I kept looking for a bulge under one arm of the suit coat. I came back and told my church members I wasn’t sure if those ushers were packing or not. My guys seemed disappointed. They really thought I would feel better if they were packing heat every Sunday.

That isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. The Texas attorney general suggested after our most recent shooting that church attenders should carry concealed weapons. Not just the ushers, everyone. Well, maybe not everyone. He’s smart enough to draw the line at Sunday school kids. I am sick at the thought of someone shooting people in church. Would an accidental shooting in the pew be described as the price we pay for keeping church safe? Might an accidental discharge set off an unintended firefight? I have never understood how encouraging everyone to carry a gun will make us all less likely to be shot.

I understand that people have rights. I have those same rights. I have the right to free speech. And I realize that sometimes it is in everyone’s best interest for me to keep my mouth shut. I used to own guns. In days past I kept two different pistols loaded and handy. When the kids were little I kept the clips out of the pistols. But they weren’t far away. Then one day I had a crazy thought. We'd be safer if I chose not to exercise my rights. I still have those rights. I just don’t exercise them.

In the Roman Empire peace and order were maintained through the threat of violence. If someone got out of line they could easily be put in their place. Or eliminated altogether. Everybody understood that. Violence may not have been sought, but it was understood to be normal. It was the price people paid for living in the world’s most powerful empire. Jesus imagined a different kind of empire, though. One where peace-makers were blessed. One where evil was not repaid with evil. He called it the empire of God. It might have been the product of an over active imagination. Or a prophetic imagination. He dared to say there was an alternative to an empire where violence was just normal. Maybe I suffer from an over active imagination. But try as I might, I can’t imagine Jesus bringing a gun to church. Not even under his suit coat.

From the Pastor

by Rev. William Bills

The United Methodist Church doesn't have 100 years

A seminary professor once remarked that “Change happens very slowly and in the church about a hundred years later.” Change is often accompanied by loss, real or imagined. Loss results in grief. Change can be a very emotional process.

In May of 2016, at the United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Oregon, delegates from all over the world debated changes to our rules around the ordination of non-heterosexual persons and the allowance of same sex weddings in our churches. These changes would affect United Methodists all over the world. The debate became quite emotional at times. Talk of schism was significant. Our bishops tabled all legislation on the topic until a special General Conference can be convened in February of 2019. Whether change comes in 2019 or the status quo is upheld church members and clergy will leave the United Methodist Church. Significant change will be occur regardless of the votes cast. Sometimes change just happens.

At a leadership event held at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas one presentation dealt with trying to hold our denomination together in spite of differences around human sexuality. One of the presenters offered data indicating that membership and attendance will drop below one million in the United States by 2050. We are currently at 5.6 million.

To say that lower church attendance is only the result of disagreements over human sexuality is disingenuous. There are many reasons for declining church attendance in America and they cut across all denominations. Church attendance in America has been declining for almost four decades. A 2015 study on growing churches indicates a correlation between growth and innovation. One might infer then that decline and resistance to change possibly go hand in hand.

I will have to live to be 90 to see the year 2050. If I am still around I will check to see if the United Methodist Church has indeed dipped to below one million members in the United States. That would be a decline of over 80% from today.

It wouldn’t appear that we can keep doing forever what we are doing today and expect to leave a viable church to those who come after us. Change can be emotionally trying. It often happens very slowly. The United Methodist Church doesn’t have a hundred years to wait.

From the Pastor

Policy Governance for churches comes from a model developed by John Carver. Carver is an adjunct professor of social work at the University of Georgia. His model was developed for non-profit organizations. Unitarian Universalist congregations adopted the model. It has since been adopted in other denominations. Policy Governance is not a product of the Vital Church Initiative. It is sometimes recommended to churches as an alternative to traditional models of church governance.

Religious organizations have developed systems of governance over decades or centuries. Most are grounded in scripture and tradition. Once a particular form is adopted tradition keeps it in place. The United Methodist Church is the result of the merging of two denominations in 1968. The governance structures resemble corporate flow charts of that era. Representative democracy can be seen in our system because the denomination grew along with the nation. American government and corporations influenced our church governance. Corporations adapt to changing circumstances to remain competitive. Our Federal government is less adaptable.

Churches that adopt Carver’s model order themselves after other non-profit organizations. The church board functions as a board of directors. The pastor and staff are accountable to the board. The pastor may act as the chief operating officer while the staff serve as department heads. The board is accountable to the vision, mission and values of the church. The board is also accountable to the congregation because a church won’t re-elect an ineffective board.

Board members keep the larger picture in view by prioritizing and planning according vision and mission of the church. The board acts proactively by engaging in strategic planning and goal-setting. Under the board’s direction, the pastor and staff are responsible for day to day operations. As needs arise, the board, pastor and staff recruit teams to meet needs. People in the congregation may also form teams to meet ministry needs. Ministry teams are trusted to do good within the parameters of the vision, mission and values of the church. The desired effect is streamlined decision making, shorter team ministry teams, and effective ministry.

No congregation and no system of governance is perfect. Moving to a single board for policy governance requires trust. The board, pastor, staff and congregation trust each other to use church resources for vision and mission according to stated values.

Our transition plan calls for maintaining the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, the Board of Trustees and the Finance Committee until such a time as the congregation might vote to dissolve them. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church allows their dissolution as long as the policy governance board maintains responsibility for property and assets (Trustees), human resources (SPRC) and finances. If you would like a copy of our proposed transition plan, contact the church office. It is also available on the church website. A town hall meeting will be held on Sunday, October 15 at 11:30. At an earlier town hall meeting the task force received feedback on our plan and is taking that under consideration. We will vote on whether or not to transition to this new form of governance on Sunday, November 19.

From the Pastor

Then Peter began to speak to them: I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. (Acts 10:34-35)

I have used this text for sermons at interfaith services. Sometimes, even among different Christian denominations, people will make some pretense to being especially favored by God.

According to Luke, the words belong to Peter. Peter was a devout Jew called by Jesus to discipleship. Peter was committed to the Law of Moses. He kept dietary, Sabbath and other laws. That meant he could not eat certain foods so he could not dine with gentiles. For Peter, gentile meant anyone outside his group. Through a God-given vision, Peter was convinced that God does not favor any group over another. He understood that reverence for God and a desire to God’s will renders anyone acceptable to God. Tribe, nation, language, skin color, even religion are not relevant. God shows no partiality. God doesn’t play favorites. That’s Biblical.

God doesn’t play favorites with anyone. So it is nonsense for humans to claim superiority over each another. There is really only one race: human. Every person bears some resemblance to the divine. Every person also falls short of divine perfection. But each is acceptable by the grace of God. The notion of supremacy is a human construct, evidence of our imperfection. If God is completely impartial how can anyone claim higher status than another?

To claim supremacy, racially or otherwise is, Biblically speaking, sin. Claims of white supremacy are wrong. Knowing that doesn’t mean God is partial to me only. Knowing that someone is really wrong doesn’t mean I can dehumanize or abuse them, no matter how angry or offended I might be. Christians are called to seek justice. Christians are called to confront evil. Christians are not permitted to repay evil with evil. Conversion only comes when we overcome evil with good. Racism is evil. God’s justice demands that it be confronted and resisted. But Christians do not repay evil with evil. There is evil in our society. But there is more good in God. God’s people witness to that goodness. Sometimes that will mean peacefully enduring suffering for the sake of truth.

From the Pastor

The Vital Church Initiative is not a magic bullet. But it (and things like it) are being undertaken in churches all over the country. There was a post WW II church building boom in this country. Now church attendance numbers are at all-time lows. Many congregations are simply aging out. The children of older members don’t attend church at the rates their parents and grand-parents did. Older people don’t attend as much as they used to. Because decline in churches is slow, it often goes unnoticed. If nothing is done to engage new generations, more and more churches will close over the coming decades.

I haven’t heard any dramatic success stories from VCI. In many churches it has slowed or stopped declining membership and attendance. But VCI hasn’t caused many congregations to experience rapid growth. The one proven method of growing congregations is simply to start new ones. But new churches tend to settle into habits and traditions around the 25 to 30 year mark. Then most begin a slow path of decline. 

The waning influence of the Christian Church in America has made this even more pronounced. Some churches are growing dramatically. Those churches tend to be newer. They are not afraid to innovate. Churches that have been in existence longer resist innovation. But staying the same isn’t really an option for churches in this country any more.   The majority of congregations over the age of forty face two choices: innovate and develop a plan for the future or accept a slow and steady decline. Slow and steady decline usually happens over decades in churches.

David A. Roozen of the Harford Institute for Religious Research published a study entitled “American Congregations 2015: Thriving and Surviving”. According to the study, churches that thrive today are the ones that are willing to innovate. In the study, “innovation” is just the willingness to try new things. According to Roozen, churches that try new things fare better than churches that don’t. While the Vital Church Initiative is not a magic bullet it does afford congregations an opportunity to consider where they want to be in ten or twenty years. Obviously some of us won’t be here in ten or twenty years. But that is not the point. The larger question is where will our church to be in ten or twenty years?

From the Pastor

"Intentional" Means Having a Plan

Bishop Robert Schnase notes that “The inner world is a source of power and strength but it needs to be cultivated.” (The Five Practices of Fruitful Living, p. 84) Caring for our spirits equips us to handle life’s difficulties. It also helps us serve God and our neighbors. Having a plan for faith development insures that one never stops growing in faith.

Faith doesn’t grow only by attending services, listening to sermons, reciting prayers and singing songs. These are essential to the corporate life of the church but faith development needs to be practiced with depth and consistency outside of worship. Busy schedules make this a challenge. Disciples have to make time to grow spiritually. Disciples also benefit from the intimacy, accountability and support of friends. Intentional faith development is practiced with depth and consistency with the help of others.

In Galatians 5.22-23 we are told that the fruits of the spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Growth in faith increases the fruits of the spirit in us over time. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, taught that Christians could become more Christ-like over time if they availed themselves of the power of the Holy Spirit and lived intentionally as Christians. While it is unlikely that we will ever become altogether Christ-like, having a plan for faith development will help us become more like Christ over time.

Our church recently formed a task force for intentional faith development. Please pray for that task force. They are working to develop a plan for the entire congregation. In the coming weeks and months consider and pray about your own spiritual growth. Do you have a plan for spiritual growth or does it happen in fits and starts? Can you make time to devote to nurturing your own spirit or the spirits of other people? Please consider how and why intentional faith development can become a high priority in our church and in your lives. I hope you will commit to undertake a plan intentional faith development.

From the Pastor

From Pastor Bill ~
VCI task forces have authority to implement

Our congregation read Bob Farr’s book, Ten Prescriptions for a Healthy Church, prior to the most recent pastoral change. I am not sure if Rev. Jennie Browne covered the chapter on Intentional Faith Development in her sermon series on that book. At the risk of being redundant, I would like to remind us of the importance of Intentional Faith Development for every congregation. The mission of any church will rise and fall with the strength of faith and Christian character of the congregation.

In Cultivating Fruitfulness, Bishop Robert Schnase tells us that intentional faith development refers to all other ministries and practices outside of weekly worship that help us to grow in faith. Sunday school classes, Bible studies, small groups, prayer time, and other spiritual practices help us to deepen our faith. Intentional refers to deliberate effort, purposeful action, and high priority. Those who practice intentional faith development should be able to look back over their lives of discipleship and see some kind of progress, some evidence of growth (Cultivating Fruitfulness, p. 43). Christians who fail to grow in faith often find themselves going through the motions, creatures of habit driven by the church calendar or tradition with little appreciation for mission and vision.

Lacking a plan for intentional faith development, many churches experience declining participation, leadership, and financial support. Disciples who don’t mature in faith have a hard time sharing their faith. Believing in God isn’t a guarantee that one will grow in faith. According to Bob Farr, “All this has resulted in a church full of consumers. When you have an outward form of faith but lack the inner substance of faith, you become easily upset when the leadership of the church begins to change the outward forms of that faith” (Ten Prescriptions for a Healthy Church, p. 58). If we fail to continually grow in faith, we may become attached to the outward forms of religion. We may become attached to preference and tradition. Lack of growth often equates to lack of vision.

Every church should offer a plan for intentional faith development. We currently have a task force developing one for ours. We each have to work at deepening our faith. This is something we do together. Depth of faith and commitment to discipleship are essential for churches that earnestly desire to follow Jesus and serve others. Growing disciples understand that we follow Jesus and participate in church not only for our own sake but also for the sake of those God calls us to reach and serve.

Rev. William C. Bills

From the Pastor

“Daring each other to love God and our neighbor.” That’s a pretty provocative statement, isn’t it?

After the 2-year education, exploration, and research effort known as the Vital Church Initiative and three visioning workshops open to the entire congregation, a small team of talented vision writers (members of our own UUMC family) crafted this new statement to capture the hopes and dreams for UUMC’s future. They needed just nine words to express all that we hope to be as a Christian community.

But what does it mean to dare each other to love God and neighbor? What does it really mean?

As Pastor Bill discussed in his Easter message, Jesus certainly dared to cross many religious and social boundaries. He dared to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, and freedom to the oppressed. Jesus challenged everyone, including the religious, the wealthy, and the powerful, to live differently. Jesus’ life epitomized love for God and neighbor.

Are our lives defined and shaped by love for God and neighbor? What would be different if they were?

Join us this Sunday at worship for a conversation about how we can “dare each other to love God and our neighbor.”

Pastor Leslee Fritz

From the Pastor

As part of our Vital Church Initiative a task force was convened to write a new vision statement for our church. The task force participated in three visioning workshops with our coach, Naomi Garcia, and the congregation. The workshops were open to everyone. At the conclusion of the third workshop a number of possible vision statements were suggested. The vision writing team considered all of those as well as some of their own. Ultimately they came up with this vision statement for our church: “Daring each other to love God and our neighbor.”

According to Webster’s some possible definitions for “dare” are: To have enough courage or confidence to do something; not to be afraid to do something; to do something that people are often afraid to do; to tell someone to do something, especially as a way of showing courage. The word “dare” is derived from the same Greek root as the word for courage. An alternate use of “dare” offered by Webster’s is a challenge to prove one’s courage. Some people were perplexed by the word “dare.” Alternatives such as “challenge” or “encourage” have been offered. I am inclined to think, though, that daring each other to love God and our neighbor calls for us to live out of a place of imaginative boldness.

In Hear Now the Parable, Dr. Bernard Brandon Scott, commenting on the story of the Good Samaritan says, “All cultures, modern and ancient, draw boundaries between themselves and others, whether it is a matter of defending their turf or building iron curtains. Greeks called everyone who did not speak Greek a barbarian, and Jews divided the world between themselves and the Gentiles. The temptation to draw the line, to dare someone to step across it, seems to be a universal human phenomenon.” (Scott, 1989, p. 189)

Jesus dared to dine with tax collectors, prostitutes and other “sinners.” Jesus dared to quote the Law of Moses and then take it to another level on his own authority. Jesus dared to heal on the Sabbath. He dared to place people before law and doctrine. Jesus dared to call experts in religion hypocrites. He dared to offer healing and acceptance to the outcast and unclean. Jesus dared people to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors. He dared people to turn the other cheek rather than retaliate.

Jesus dared to cross many religious and social boundaries. We sometimes fail to notice how many boundaries he obliterated. If Jesus were only preaching good news to the poor, telling people to pay taxes and encouraging sinners to be good, nobody would have ever crucified him. In the Roman Empire, and sometimes still today, people are threatened when they dare to cross boundaries. Daring to really love God and our neighbor is not for the faint of heart.

From the Pastor

Evangelism is sometimes a struggle for mainline Christians. Evangelism may invoke images of street corner preachers shouting judgment, condemnation and the fast approaching end. The word may bring to mind unwanted visitors in white shirts, black ties and backpacks filled with tracts bicycling up our drive. Evangelism may conjure up images of bejeweled, silver-haired TV preachers promising blessings for donations. The “E word” has gathered a lot of baggage lately.

On page 93 of the A Disciples Path workbook James Harnish writes, “As United Methodists, we share the gospel without cramming it down people’s throats, hitting people over the heads with contrived clichés, or shouting condemnation from the street corners. We share the gospel in the spirit of love and grace… there are many ways in which we bear witness to our faith…”

Religious faith is personal. Ours is personal to us and the faith of another is personal to them. Sometimes it is hard to put into words what our faith means to us. Sharing our deepest beliefs and commitments can be misunderstood as an attempt to convert someone. Sharing faith might also be misunderstood as attempting to invalidate the beliefs of someone else. Sharing our faith should always be done with sensitivity and respect toward others. It is best done after we have established a meaningful relationship with someone. Hit and run faith sharing with strangers is rarely effective.

When we formally become a part of a United Methodist congregation we pledge to support our church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. Our witness, though, is not very effective if we are only sharing our faith with one another. We don’t want to cram anything down anyone’s throats. Nor do we condemn other or shout contrived clichés. We can, though, when the time is right, share our personal stories, and the role that our faith plays in our stories, with other people. Simply sharing our own personal stories honestly and authentically is the best witness we can offer. Our faith story may be a means of grace for someone we know who needs to hear a word of good news.

From the Pastor

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2.14-17)

I sometimes say that one can believe all manner of wonderful things without ever leaving their pew. Those wonderful beliefs may never amount to much without action. Prayer does help. Sometimes that is all we can do. But most of the time there is more we can do. Because we believe, we act. We act to make the world a better place. We act to make our communities better places. We act to make our church a better church. We act to make the lives of other people a little bit less hard. Our actions make the world look a little more like heaven. Faith by itself is dead. Faith without action rarely means anything to anyone beyond the believer.

Members of United Methodist congregations pledge to support one another with their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. While all five of these are important, service is the visible sign of what we say we believe. Service is our faith in action. We pledge to support our church with our time, talents and spiritual gifts so that our church is effective in carrying out ministry. We do this for one another, for other people and as our faith response to God. We promise not just to believe, but to act. Faith on its own is rarely enough when it comes to doing God’s will.

Prescription four of our Vital Church Initiative report calls for us to conduct an all-church study on our five membership vows. It further directs the formation of a task force on faith development. Faith development requires learning and practicing spiritual disciplines. It also requires service to others. We should never underestimate the importance of Christian service as it relates to our faith. Christian service is faith in action. According to James, faith without action is really no faith at all.

Five Ways to Support One Another

From Pastor Bill Bills

Upon joining a United Methodist congregation, members vow to support the congregation with prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. Each time someone joins the church current members renew their commitment to those same vows. A few times each year we have occasion to renew our commitment to support one another with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.

We may think of our gifts in a few ways. A gift may be any skill or talent we have that we can share with the congregation. This could be anything from plumbing and electrical skills to accounting or musical talents. Such gifts are valuable to our congregation. Time is a valuable commodity. Many of us wish we had more discretionary time. Our time can be a great gift. 

Another obvious and important gift is money. Every church needs money for basics such as facility maintenance, salaries and benefits, missions and programs. Financial gifts are needed for the annual operating budget, the endowment, the building fund and other special needs.

For the past week I have been listening to the spring fund drive on Michigan Radio. Thinking about our membership vows causes me to listen to the spring fund drive differently. One announcer said that only six percent of the audience actually pledges. Ninety-four percent use the service without supporting it. During the pledge drive they highlight the services they provide. They also set an hourly goal for how many pledges they need that hour. They also say that donors should decide for themselves how much to give. Then they mention that most people give ten or twenty dollars per month. They are pretty specific about their programs and their needs. They share a lot of information. They aren’t shy about asking for pledges.

Church members vow to support our congregation with their gifts. This includes time, talents and financial resources. University UM Church usually does a fall campaign, but not a spring and a fall campaign. UUMC's fall campaign is pretty low-key, especially compared to other non-profits like Michigan Radio. Our church doesn’t suggest dollar amounts and we don’t set pledge goals. We do hope people give thought and prayer to their vow to support one another with their gifts. Our time, our talents and our financial resources are all necessary for effective ministry.


From the Pastor

I spent four years between high school and college in the Navy. I then served four more years as a reservist during college. After college, I enrolled in seminary and applied for a reserve officer’s commission. I was given a pair of shiny ensign bars for my collar and sent to the Navy Chaplain Basic Course through a program for seminarians.

Service members and families have the right to free exercise of religion. Chaplains help make that possible. But congress never appropriates a lot of money for chaplains. Navy chaplains also serve the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard. That is a huge congregation for relatively few clergy. I rarely saw a chaplain at sea. They typically flew to the ship on the “holy helo”, held a service, gave the benediction and then flew away. Their appearances were rare in port.

My chaplain school instructors stressed ministry of presence. They taught us to go where the sailors and marines were. There weren’t enough chaplains so we were told to get out of the office, get out of the chapel, and be present with sailors and marines. It meant something to just show up and be present where they lived and worked.  Showing up demonstrated that we were there for them.

In our church, members vow to support each other with prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Each time someone joins the congregation, we renew our vow to be there for each other. Worship is the primary regular gathering for Christians. Now though, 22 Sundays per year counts as “regular attendance”. Worship is a ministry of presence. We are present with one another and with God in worship. Today we can listen to a broadcast or a podcast or watch a live stream service on our phone. We can practice religion without being physically present. But Christian community is a ministry of presence. We make a covenant to “be there” for each other. Our personal ministry of presence demonstrates that we are here for each other, especially in times of need. Being present is our gift to one another.

From the Pastor

I was at a men’s prayer breakfast with some Christians. The guy sitting next to me related an incident from the previous day. He came out of a store to find a small dent in his driver’s side door. A spot of paint on his car seemed to match the car next to his. He was angry so he used his steel toed boot to kick a dent into the door of the car next to his. He said that made him feel better.

We all make mistakes. Sometimes we react first and then think later. This is normal, even for Christians. When we do, most of us realize our mistakes and apologize. Christian character means that we experience regret, learn something about ourselves and apologize for our mistakes. Acknowledging mistakes and accepting responsibility for oneself is virtuous.

Some people call themselves Christian but when we observe their behavior over time we may wonder at their definition of Christian. It is hard to know what another person really thinks or believes. It is good to give people the benefit of the doubt, up to a point. But a consistent pattern of questionable behavior over time can lead to questions about a person’s character. What is true for others is true for ourselves.

Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits… every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit… Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7.15-20) That sounds a little scary. But the point is, what we do matters. A person’s character isn’t revealed by what they say is true. The true nature of any person is known by observing their behavior over time.

From the Pastor


Lent is the seven-week season of preparation prior to Easter. It is a time for reflection and self-examination. It is a time for repentance. It is a time for returning to God, to what has been lost or forgotten. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday; this year it begins March 1. (Editor's note: you are invited to come participate in our 45-minute 7:00 p.m. service.)

We begin the season by marking ourselves with ashes, in the sign of the cross, on our foreheads. This is an act of repentance. It is also a sign of mortality. Adam was formed from the dust of the earth and it is to the earth we will all return. At our graveside funeral service we recite the words, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes and dust to dust; blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” Lent reminds us of our mortality.

Typically during Lent people will give something up. This recalls the deprivation that Jesus experienced during forty days in the wilderness following his baptism. This can be a helpful reminder of what Jesus gave up for others. People give up many things for Lent. I am going to give up social media and cable news. I won’t watch cable news, news on the internet or social media. This may actually be easy as I am weary of these things. I am hoping that the break will renew my spirit. It will help me to remember that the principalities and powers of this world are not sovereign over my life. They exercise some power in my life but they are not God.

Some people will take something new on during Lent. Sometimes people undertake to a new spiritual discipline during these seven weeks. This might be additional time for prayer, extra devotional or Bible reading, or making time for Christian service. Consider taking on our all-church study, “A Disciples Path.” You may want to join a group at church. You may do the study on your own. It is one part informational, one part Biblical and one part spiritual. “A Disciples Path” is based on the five vows of membership undertaken when one unites with a United Methodist Congregation. These membership vows call one to support the congregation with prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. Taking on this study can help remind us what it means to be in Christian community.

For Lent I will do both things. I will give up something that has been draining to my spirit; electronic media, especially cable news and social media. I will replace that with a study reminding me of what it means to be committed to other Christians. What might you give up, or take on, for seven weeks to renew your spirit and strengthen your commitment?

From the Pastor

Rev. William Bills
February 21, 2017

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With the passage of time I have become less and less a fan of the media. I remember the advent of cable TV.  Back in the eighties, I thought that pay TV meant no more commercials. But television exists for advertisers. Public TV and public radio now sell time to advertisers. Ratings drive advertising. Anybody who uses the internet knows that information comes with a price. The first Iraq war demonstrated the profitability of CNN. Two men reported from Baghdad over the telephone while CNN ran the same footage non-stop over and over. The era of twenty-four hour breaking news was born.

Today everything is breaking news. Breaking news and anxiety go hand in hand. High levels of anxiety in society translate to advertising revenue for media outlets. No matter what the story, everybody has to take commercial breaks. Playing off our anxiety helps media outlets pay their bills. That doesn’t mean the media is bad. It just means media consumers have to be smart the same way any other consumer has to be smart. A free press is profitable when it keeps people engaged. High anxiety keeps people engaged. That doesn’t mean the media is the enemy. It does mean people have to use their heads. It takes work to discern truth.

I studied M. K. Gandhi in college. I watched documentaries and read about non-violent resistance. He wrote that Truth is god. (Not, God is truth.) His autobiography is entitled: “The Story of My Experiments with Truth.” For Gandhi, all of life was about discerning truth.

Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Later, as he stood before Pilate, Jesus was asked by the man with the power, “What is truth?” It isn’t clear if Pilate didn’t know what was true or if he just didn’t care. Maybe he thought he had the power to create his own truth. When an individual claims to possess all truth, something is amiss. Real leaders don’t blame others for their problems. The media isn’t perfect as an institution. Within the media there are people working for the truth. That makes some free and some afraid.