January 30, 2023
Yesterday, we wrapped up our January Teaching Series on “WELCOME: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). (Here's a link to our Messages page on our website.) Spending five weeks in this series has reminded me of the critical importance of the spiritual discipline of hospitality, especially in current times. I think how we receive and welcome others, even in small ways, can set such an important tone in our world. As I shared yesterday, each and every one of us is a recipient of God’s radical hospitality and we are to be conduits of that hospitality to others. I recently read something about an ancient monastic practice that struck me.
The Rule of St. Benedict, written by Saint Benedict of Nursia 1,500 years ago, has instructions for a very specific role in the monastery—the porter in charge of answering the door. The porter's job is to open the door to the monastery when someone knocks. Not much of a role, you say? Ah, but there's so much to it. One contemporary Benedictine author notes, "The way we answer doors is the way we deal with the world."
The porter is given very specific instructions. He is to sleep near the entrance to the monastery so he can hear and respond in a timely way when someone knocks. The porter is to offer a welcome, in Benedict's words, "with all the gentleness that comes from reverence of God," and "with the warmth of love." As soon as anyone knocks, the porter is to reply, "Thanks be to God. Your blessing, please." He is to say this before he even knows who's on the other side of the door. And then the porter is to make sure that the other monks know of the presence of a visitor in their midst so that they can join in extending a welcome.
One contemporary Christian writer commenting on this practice noted the following: “In contrast, the 20th century writer Dorothy Parker used to answer her telephone with this greeting: "What fresh hell is this?" How do you respond when someone knocks on the door of your church or home or life? Is it closer to "What fresh hell is this?" or "Thanks be to God"?
Jesus said, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45). Our scripture from yesterday instructed us that “it is well for your heart to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:9). When it is, you will be a conduit for God’s grace-based radical hospitality toward all.
Please use this link to our Volunteer page to learn more about some practical ways that you can be an ambassador of hospitality as a resident of Greater Cleveland and a member of Garfield Memorial Church including Small Groups/MicroChurch, Outreach, Cafe, Hospitality, Worship/Tech, Care Ministry and more.
PS: Here's what I shared last Sunday about ways to show hospitality Individually & Corporately:
1) Invite people into your neighborhood or apartment building into your space
2) Invite colleagues, friends, associates and neighbors into your spiritual home
3) Make Room for the Table! Eat Together
4) Host a Small Group or a Microchurch in Your Home or Favorite Spot and Witness People’s Lives Change!
1) Help with Care Ministry, Visitation Ministry, Meals Ministry, Food Pantry
2) Volunteer at Kidz Club, Youth Ministry, Building Hope in the City, Etc.
3) Be an Usher, Join Radical Hospitality, Serve at the Café, Join the Worship / Tech Team, Children’s Check-In, Parking Lot Hospitality
4) Search Out “Strangers” on Sundays
January 16, 2023
There is a parable that I have turned to many times on my journey of ministry. Some have called it a continuation of the better known “parable of the sower.” It goes like this:
“Jesus also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come’” (Mark 4:26-29).
This parable reminds us that growth is happening, new life is being born, and the kingdom of God is being built, even when we are completely unaware. We just came out of the Christmas season a few weeks ago where we sang, “Silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the wonders of his heaven.” When Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day, “In fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21), he was saying, pay attention, look for it!
I got a glimpse of it last weekend in an unlikely place. We often look for “kingdoms” in seats of worldly power. Yet, over the weekend of January 6-8th in our nation’s Capitol building, which had been mobbed and desecrated two years earlier, now fist fights were almost breaking out on the floor of Congress. On Sunday, in the capital of Brazil, hordes were violently storming their government buildings. The kingdoms of this world certainly did not seem to reflect the kingdom of our God. But the epicenter for God’s kingdom wasn’t in Washington, D.C. or Brasilia or Beijing or Moscow last weekend, it was in Buffalo, NY. You probably know the Monday prior on January 2nd, a young Buffalo Bills football player named Damar Hamlin, collapsed on the field during Monday Night Football. He went into cardiac arrest before our eyes as a diverse team of medical heroes rushed to save his life.
The whole nation held its collective breath praying for this young 24 year old. People from every “tongue, tribe and nation” and political persuasion, held hands and lit candles. A charity he started went from $2900 to 9 million dollars in less than two weeks, as people just yearned to do something good in his honor. Our nation became united around one young man that not even the majority of avid sports fans had heard of the week before. I have a pastor friend from Buffalo who said, “When Damar’s heart stopped, we found ours.” And on Sunday, in Buffalo, when Damar woke from sleep and flashed his trademark “heart sign” with his hands on the scoreboard, all people across the land rejoiced loudly!It’s the role of visionaries and prophets to call out when we see the “kingdom among us.” Now no one did that more loudly or courageously than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As our nation honors him today, we must never forget his pursuit of the Beloved Community – his term for the kingdom of God. It was what he constantly preached about, it was what he called us all to live into, it is what he lived for and -tragically - what he died for. He scolded us for not living up to the ideals of our nation and more importantly to the ethics of the kingdom. Yet, when he saw the kingdom emerging, even from unlikely corners, in his resounding voice he would shout, “There it is!”
One such occasion was after one of his first assassination attempts. Dr. King was doing a book signing of Stride Toward Freedom in a Harlem department store when a deranged individual ran forward and stabbed him in the chest with a pair of scissors. He was rushed to the hospital and the next day the NY Times reported that the blade of the scissors lay so close to his aorta that had he had even sneezed in the ambulance he would have most certainly died. Dr. King reported shortly afterward, that he had received many letters in the hospital while recovering. He said that he received one from the Mayor of NYC, from the Governor of the State of NY and even from the President of the US. He shared that he really did not remember what any of them said. He did, however, say that there was one letter he received that he would never forget. It came from a young eight year old girl who wrote to him and said how sad she was over the news. She then shared “I know it won’t matter to you but I want to let you know that I am white.” She wrote, “Dr. King, my Mom read to me where the paper said that if you had sneezed in the ambulance you would have died. I just wanted to write you to let you know how very happy I am that you didn’t sneeze.”
Over the years, Dr. King would again and again refer to this letter. You could hear him saying, “Do you see it? There it is! Behold the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God is among us, friends. Look for it and celebrate loudly when you see it.
January 9, 2023
Our current Teaching Series, “WELCOME: Do not neglect to show hospitality… for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). In God’s eyes, hospitality is not optional. The Bible declares it as a sacred duty for followers of Jesus. Members of the Early Church readily welcomed others into their hearts and homes… ALL others, friends and strangers and enemies alike.
Long before hospitality becomes something we “do,” it is related to who we are. Something has to happen in us that will transform what comes out of us. That is why Pastor Scott and I began our “Welcome” series with teaching on welcoming God and the Holy Spirit. As I shared in my message yesterday, many people feel like Christianity is a “lifestyle” or “following rules.” Neither are correct. Christianity at its core is an encounter. An encounter with God in Jesus Christ, an encounter with his claims as to who he is, an encounter with the kingdom that he came to build, and a welcoming of the Holy Spirit to convict, grow and transform us on the inside. That, then, leads to a different kind of lifestyle and code of conduct. If the first doesn’t happen, the latter won’t matter. Note examples of scripture attesting to this, they are good ones to kick off the New Year:
- Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
- I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20)
Trainers in the hospitality industry follow Merriam-Webster’s three-part definition of what it means to be “hospitable.” I found it interesting to reflect on these as lived out in Jesus:
1) Disposition: When you walk into a hotel or restaurant or church, for that matter, the attitude, body language, facial expression, smiles and tone of voice of those who greet you immediately set the tone for your feelings about that organization. Is this a safe place? Do people enjoy being here and working for this organization? Will I find joy here? I’ll never forget an article I read in the late 1990’s by a secular journalist who traveled around the country worshipping with and observing churches. She wrote, “They sing the joy of the Lord is my salvation. Somebody needs to inform their faces.”
If you ever wonder about your disposition, I always say if dogs and children like you, you are probably in good shape. They are great thermometers. If dogs tend to growl at you and children avoid you, do a spiritual disposition checkup. The disciples often had to manage crowd control with Jesus and one of the biggest aspects of that was children who flocked to him (Mark 10:14). Jesus must have had a disposition of safety, laughter and joy.
2) Reception: How do we receive people? Is there a pecking order? A dress requirement? An interview or background check needed? Jesus simply met people, all people, at the point of their need and received them with astonishing grace. When I arrived at GMUMC over 18 years ago, I posed the question, “What if we received people the way Jesus did, at the point of their need with sheer grace?” We have not budged from that in almost two decades.
3) Treatment: After receiving people with love, how do we respond to their physical and emotional needs? When we ship something that we are concerned might be damaged, we mark the shipping container with several notices declaring, “FRAGILE.” People are fragile and Jesus treated all people as such (except those abusing others and not respecting the fragility of those being unjustly treated). Look at how gentle Jesus was, for example, with the woman at the well, with Legion, with the woman caught in adultery, with Judas.
My favorite statement about hospitality came from the great Catholic mystic and priest, Henri Nouwen who said:
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” (Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life). May Garfield Memorial Church always be that kind of hospitable space!
November 21, 2022
Soon you will be receiving our Christmas Letter regarding our Christmas Offering this year. It is no secret that we take in close to 35% of our operating income at Garfield Memorial Church from Thanksgiving through the end of the year. These have been some of the most challenging years in our church’s history due to our global and national landscape. You all have stood strong in 2020 and 2021, and we need your commitment to finish well in 2022 and start strong in 2023!
In light of that, some might ask, why are we lifting up special projects to give to beyond GMUMC? For over 18 years, I have shared that the worst thing that any church can do is to become inward focused. If it’s all about us, it becomes a club, not a church. The church is always outward focused, seeking to bring Christmas joy and Christ’s message to those around us. Our goal is to bring “joy to the city” (Acts 8:8).
In that light, we are seeking to support several area ministries this year in Greater Cleveland. Our incredible worship teams at both Heritage and Mosaic are leading us to bless two area ministries. Craig McGaughey and our Heritage Chancel Choir have led us to the Eliza Bryant Village (www.elizabryant.org), located in Cleveland. The Village is the oldest continually operating African American-founded long-term care facility in the United States. The Choir will present “Tell It on the Mountain” to residents of the Village on December 11th. In addition, we have an opportunity to bless the Village through second mile gifts which will enable us to fund transportation for residents. A donor has already pledged a matching gift. Go to www.garfieldchurch.org and click on "Giving" and select Eliza; text with the dollar amount (e.g. “$50”) to 216.242.1975 - key word Eliza.
Dre & Leah Bracey and our Mosaic teams are hosting a “Holiday Joy” Concert on December 11th at 6:30 PM in the Family Life Center in Pepper Pike. This event is charging a $20 ticket fee, or $12 each for families of 4 or more with children under 18. (You can also purchase tickets for adult admission on Sundays after the Mosaic 10:00 service at a discounted price of $17). The reason for that is to support some guest artists and also to raise support for “Building Hope in the City” (buildinghopeinthecity.org). One of their missions in Cleveland is to navigate housing for immigrants. Was there a greater need than that on Christmas where Jesus and his family were desperate for housing both in Bethlehem and Egypt? Learn more about the concert and get tickets online at HolidayJoyCLE.com.
Yesterday, we heard an amazing message from an incredible young leader in Christ’s Church in Cleveland! Pastor Lumar Vargas is leading Aviva Church on Cleveland’s West side in Old Brooklyn, a new diverse Latino-Focused Church. GMUMC is partnering with them to raise support for this vibrant witness. Our GMUMC Foundation has committed $5,000 of matching funds for any donation to Aviva Church from now until the end of the year. Go to www.garfieldchurch.org and click on "Giving" and select Aviva; text with the dollar amount (e.g. “$50”) to 216.242.1975 - key word Aviva.
When we say, “Widen the Circle” at Garfield Memorial Church, we mean it. When God widened the circle at Christmas to an exponential degree when the angel declared, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10), God invited all of us to get on board. Let’s be extravagant with our love and generosity this season!
October 2, 2022
We just completed a four-week teaching series as we kicked off our new church year this fall. We leaned into three themes with which to challenge ourselves both individually and collectively at GMUMC this year:
GATHER IN COMMUNITY – GROW SPIRITUALLY – GUARD UNITY
If you missed the messages for any of these three focus areas I would encourage you to go to our website and catch up. We are emerging from two and a half years of some of the most major disruption to the American Church, probably since the turbulence of the 1960’s. We are listening to God and seeking the Holy Spirit’s leading into the “new wineskins” (Mark 2:22) that Jesus is beckoning us into in this new season. In light of these changes and challenges, I have shared advice that has helped to guide me in ministry for over thirty years: in light of the gospel, “The message never changes, but the methods always do.”
We are following up our last series with a new teaching series beginning this coming Sunday entitled, BLUEPRINTS… “for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). We will be taking a deep dive into Ephesians, especially the earlier chapters, where Paul lays out for us a letter with the construction of the Church in mind. Ephesians is unique in that, unlike Paul’s other letters, there is no particular event or historical context being addressed. Scholars note that Paul uses eighty words in his letter that appear nowhere else in his writings. He uses an unusual amount of fragments of hymns and liturgies of the day. Just like a skilled draftsperson laying out architectural drawings for a particular model home or building, Paul is laying out spiritual blueprints for the Church that Jesus intends to build.
We hope you will participate with us in this eternal building project called the Church. As we enter this season, I thought it would be helpful to share some thoughts on what the “Church is and what the Church isn’t” as described by Dan Kimball in his writings on an emerging church for emerging generations. We grounded ourselves in these when I arrived here back in 2004, and they have remained a part of our Connect classes for church membership to this day:
September 20, 2022
Pastor Scott shared with me some articles on loneliness recently. In an article entitled, “Loneliness: An Epidemic?” written in 2018 by Hannah Schultze, she writes:
“If you’ve felt lonely know that you are not alone. According to a study by the British Red Cross, over nine million adults in the U.K. feel the same way – that’s about 1/5 of the country’s population! Loneliness is increasingly being considered a hazard to human health comparable to obesity and smoking. Now, even governments are getting involved – in 2018, the U.K. appointed a Loneliness Minister… In the U.S., loneliness is labeled an epidemic worthy of a public health intervention, but there hasn’t been any government action… Persistent loneliness can become a serious problem that damages physical health and shortens lifespan.”
Friends, that article was written Pre-COVID!! On January 8, 2022, Mike Frost, who I have gotten to know through the Exponential and Mosaix networks, wrote an article in a Church Leadership Magazine on churches dying from “friendlessness.” He writes:
“I’ve lost count of the number of Christians who’ve told me they either stopped attending… or left church… because they couldn’t make any friends there. They report that the church people were friendly enough. They were hospitable and welcoming. But as one person told me, ‘They’re nice to you, but no one becomes your friend.’”
He goes on to write that this is not just a “church problem,” it’s a nationwide problem. In 1985 a study was done asking people “Over the last six months, who are the people with whom you discussed matters important to you?” The majority reported three or more friends that fit that description. In 2004, when they did that survey again, the majority leaned toward ZERO. The survey concluded that “One out of every four of us is walking around with no one to share our lives with.”
In last Sunday’s message, I shared one of the three goals for living into our vision at GMUMC this year: GATHER IN COMMUNITY. I spoke about the need for and the nature of Christian friendship. In his article Mike makes three points to those of us who profess Christ:
1) Church people need to be less busy
2) Church people need to become more vulnerable
3) Church people need to quit putting the onus on newcomers to make friends
He writes, “Churches should be learning to embody the grace and hospitality of the gospel… We can’t sing, ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus,’ without his friendship affecting how we befriend others.”
On Sunday we launched a way that we might Gather In Community through Gather During the Week; Gather in MicroChurches, Gather in Prayer and Gather to Serve. Go here to learn more and sign up.
I am challenging each of you to commit to a way to GATHER from this list. I am practicing what I preach as my wife Terri and I are leading a five week small group. This is not always a “felt need” folks, but I assure you it is a “real need.” Let’s do this!
August 15, 2022
In yesterday’s message, I shared that much of the wisdom I have attained in life has been through the wisdom of others, through their writings and their lived testimony. Even though I have never met many of them personally, they are part of my “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). One of those wise sages for me is Dorothy Day. Dorothy’s father was a journalist, which led Dorothy to become a voracious reader and writer. She was determined to become a writer and did follow her father by becoming a journalist herself. “Inspired by the class-conscious fiction of Jack London and Upton Sinclair, she dreamed of writing ‘such books that thousands upon thousands of readers would be convinced of the injustice of things as they were’ [her words] (Dorothy Day, Selected Writings, Robert Ellsberg, editor). She became a political activist, a bohemian and an atheist. At the age of 30, she had a radical conversion and was baptized as a follower of Christ.
Her activism took on another level, as it was now grounded in the gospel. She was an advocate for the poor, a vigorous opponent of poverty, a leader in the cause of women’s suffrage, an antagonist against American apartheid and an advocate for Civil Rights. She did not just talk and write about faith, she lived it actively. James wrote that “faith apart from works is dead” (“dead” can also be translated “worthless, empty”). None of those adjectives can be applied to the life of Dorothy Day. So vigorous and evident was her testimony that the Catholic Church has considered canonization of her as a saint. In fact, at the end of last year, in December 2021, the Diocese of New York City again proposed sainthood to the Vatican, which they are currently considering. I chuckle a bit when I think of Dorothy’s words: “Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily.”
As we have been studying Proverbs, I shared some of my favorite “Proverbs” by Dorothy Day. As I stated yesterday, too often we read the Book of Proverbs like the Farmer’s Almanac, pulling out a snippet here, a piece there. Rather, we should see the themes running throughout. The clear theme of Dorothy’s proverbs was radical love. It was 1) a Love empowered by Christ and infused with the gospel; and 2) a Love in action. As you read these wise words, think to yourself what a different kind of world this might be if we all took them seriously:
- “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?”
- “There is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.”
- “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least… Those who cannot see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.”
- “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do. My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms.”
- “The older I get, the more people I meet, the more convinced I am that we must only work on ourselves, to grow in grace. The only thing we can do about people is to love them.”
- “The final word is love… True love is delicate and kind, full of gentle perception and understanding, full of beauty and grace, full of joy unutterable. There should be some flavor of this in all our love for others. We are all one. We are one flesh… With such a love one would see all things new; we would begin to see people as they really are, as God sees them… Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up.”
- If I have achieved anything in my life, it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God… You see I'm such a fool that I'm never afraid of appearing foolish… I am a fool for Christ.”
Dorothy Day didn’t just say these things, she lived them. Jesus told a parable about someone who lived this way to a Bible scholar who was stuck in his study and blind to the world around him, and said simply “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
July 25, 2022
We have been studying what Biblical Scholars call “wisdom literature” all summer. The Biblical writings usually associated with this genre are: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Song of Solomon, and sometimes the Psalms. Several verses in Proverbs talk about the need for “Sabbath rest.” How are you doing with that after all of the drama of the past 2 ½ years? I recently took this advice and took some much needed time off. “Sabbath rest” was God’s idea and God modeled it in Creation (Genesis 2:2-3). Sabbath rest, as you will see in the article below, “is about more than taking time off.” It involves us but it also involves God. Certainly, we should find ways to unplug and do the things we most enjoy with those we most love. Yet, Sabbath also means to factor in time to commune with God who loves us most of all.
I know our schedules, spaces and routines were so disrupted the last 2 ½ years. I think disciplined “Sabbath rest” is crucial toward our needed recovery of balance, perspective and peace. So, two questions…
1) What are you doing to maintain or reclaim physical, emotional and psychological health right now?
2) What are you doing to maintain or reclaim spiritual health right now?
Both areas are crucial and lack of attention to either will affect the other.
Worship, prayer and serving Christ’s mission are probably the three most important disciplines for spiritual health. Some would add Bible Study and I agree it is essential to reflect on God’s Word; but if you are regular in your weekly worship, you will at least have the opportunity to hear God’s Word read and reflected upon. I know that regular worship routines were certainly disrupted for some. We worked faithfully to make sure that weekly worship opportunities have always been offered at GMUMC no matter what! I pray you are finding ways to keep weekly worship a part of your spiritual development… whether that is in-person, online or even setting aside quiet time during the week for worship while playing back a service and marinating in the music and meditating on the message. There is a question that was posed in a sermon many, many years ago that has always haunted me: “If you feel further away from God today, who moved?” I pray that you are practicing or committed to developing healthy Sabbath habits for your body, mind, heart and soul. I hope you find the following article by theologian Tim Keller helpful regarding Sabbath, I sure did:
“When it comes to time management, one of the fundamental principles of the Bible is the Sabbath. If we are to be an “alternate city” (Matthew 5:14–16), we have to be different from our neighbors in how we spend our time outside of work; that is, how we rest. So what is the Sabbath about?
According to the Bible, it is about more than just taking time off. After creating the world, God looked around and saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). God did not just cease from his labor; he stopped and enjoyed what he had made. What does this mean for us? We need to stop to enjoy God, to enjoy his creation, to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The whole point of Sabbath is joy in what God has done.
Writer Judith Shulevitz describes the dynamic of work and Sabbath rest this way:
My mood would darken until, by Saturday afternoon, I’d be unresponsive and morose. My normal routine, which involved brunch with friends and swapping tales of misadventure in the relentless quest for romance and professional success, made me feel impossibly restless. I started spending Saturdays by myself. After a while I got lonely and did something that, as a teenager profoundly put off by her religious education, I could never have imagined wanting to do. I began dropping in on a nearby synagogue.
It was only much later that I developed a theory about my condition. I was suffering from the lack [of a Sabbath]. There is ample evidence that our relationship to work is out of whack. Ours is a society that pegs status to overachievement; we can’t help admiring workaholics. Let me argue, instead, on behalf of an institution that has kept workaholism in reasonable check for thousands of years.
Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily. This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction.
In the Bible, Sabbath rest means to cease regularly from and to enjoy the results of your work. It provides balance: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:9–10). Although Sabbath rest receives a much smaller amount of time than work, it is a necessary counterbalance so that the rest of your work can be good and beneficial.
God liberated his people when they were slaves in Egypt, and in Deuteronomy 5:12–15, God ties the Sabbath to freedom from slavery. Anyone who overworks is really a slave. Anyone who cannot rest from work is a slave—to a need for success, to a materialistic culture, to exploitative employers, to parental expectations, or to all of the above. These slave masters will abuse you if you are not disciplined in the practice of Sabbath rest. Sabbath is a declaration of freedom.
Thus Sabbath is about more than the external rest of the body; it is about the inner rest of the soul. We need rest from the anxiety and strain of our overwork, which is really an attempt to justify ourselves—to gain the money or the status or the reputation we think we have to have. Avoiding overwork requires deep rest in Christ’s finished work for your salvation (Hebrews 4:1–10). Only then will you be able to “walk away” regularly from your vocational work and rest.
Sabbath is the key to getting this balance, and Jesus identifies himself as the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27–28)—the Lord of Rest! Jesus urges us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29). One of the great blessings of the gospel is that he gives you rest that no one else will.”
June 28, 2022
In Ephesians 4, Paul is encouraging our earliest Christian ancestors to not “lose heart” and to stay the path with Christ. In verses 4:17-20, he instructs us not to “walk as the world walks” …in “the futility of mind… darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of ignorance and hardness of heart.” “They have lost all sensitivity,” Paul laments, and declares, “That is not the way you learned Christ!”
Here is how Eugene Peterson paraphrases Ephesians 4:17-24 in more contemporary language and imagery, as he hears Paul saying:
“And so I insist—and God backs me up on this—that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They’ve refused for so long to deal with God that they’ve lost touch not only with God but with reality itself. They can’t think straight anymore…
But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”
I needed this admonition from Paul this past week, month, year, two and a half years! Sometimes it just feels like this world is tumbling down the aimless path that Paul observes… and becoming “rotten through and through.” Interestingly, Paul’s prescription is found in verse 4:23, where he prays that, “you might be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” Elsewhere he would say something similar, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the minds” (Romans 12:2). I think that now is a good time for all of us to seek some mind-renewing. Christ’s Church, those whom he called and sent into the world, must represent something very, very different from the partisan, polarized, “hard-hearted & insensitive” (to quote Paul) world that seems to continue to unravel around us. That is going to take a renewal of mind, a renewal of heart, a renewal of will to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:6).
I love you Garfield Memorial Church, I know the work is incredibly hard. I know that it would be easier to jump into our own little partisan churches with all like-minded people, rather than to live in the tension with diverse others as we seek a “better kingdom” and work toward a Renaissance of Reconciliation. I know we get oh so tired and teeter on losing hope. That’s exactly where the earliest church was under the weight of unfathomable persecution by the Roman empire. This was the audience Paul was writing to, then and now. So, renew your mind, give your heart a bath, and commit to the work Jesus calls us to “daily” to represent a better way and build a better world as the Holy Spirit guides and empowers us.
I’m getting ready to take a bit of away time as my kids are taking me to the land up north to celebrate my 60th year around the sun. I cherish the time with them, but I will find alone time on the corner of a lake apart from the noise of this world, and in that quiet time with God I will ask him to do in me what I pray he dos and is doing in you… RENEW.
June 13, 2022
This past Sunday, Pastor Scott made an important announcement about some new developments and opportunities at our South Euclid Campus. Let me be clear from the forefront, our South Euclid Campus is not closing. Pastor Scott has recently stated that too often in the church we ask God to bless what we are doing, instead of presenting ourselves ready to do whatever it is that God is blessing. At our South Euclid Campus, God has been blessing our KidzClub ministry in incredible ways. Hopefully you witnessed the videos that we have included in eNotes and presented in worship of the baptisms that have been taking place with the youth and young adults through that ministry. (Here are a few links to the videos: https://vimeo.com/714910101 https://vimeo.com/711906764) Our community meals and outreach activities have continued to be a blessing to that community, including our mission outreach through both our Food Pantry and the Kidz Can Thrive Arc Relief Fund. South Euclid has served as the hub of our growing MicroChurch ministry led by Pastor Scott and other trained leaders, and has been another visible sign of the Holy Spirit’s active presence with us.
Sunday morning worship continues to be a new and unique opportunity across our country and beyond right now. In our post-Covid culture the reality of “hybrid” worship that is a combination of online and in-person participation has become the current standard, and does not appear to be changing any time soon. Although our financial giving has remained relatively strong these past three years, navigating both in-person and online worship in this reality continues to be a journey of discovery. In-person worship across the country seems to be somewhere around 40% of pre-Covid in-person attendance numbers. Even that percentage could decrease in the summer months as people are looking for new opportunities for travel and leisure that they were unable to do the last two years. Our church has reflected these national trends. Since our renewed offering of in-person worship post-Covid beginning late last summer, we have not witnessed the critical mass of in-person attendees or volunteers to sustain three in-person worship offerings in two locations. Therefore, we will be consolidating our in-person Sunday worship offerings to our two current worship experiences at our Pepper Pike Campus at 9:00 AM (Heritage) and 10:00 AM (Mosaic). This is good stewardship of our staff, volunteers, and finances at the current time. We will continue to monitor these trends in this ongoing and ever-emerging reality through the end of the year. Our online worship services, facilitated by our Online Pastor, Curt Bissell, are still widely viewed and we will not be making any changes in these services beyond new enhancements to continue to provide excellence there as well.
In expanding our efforts at our South Euclid Campus in the areas where we see God most actively moving, we will be increasing our KidzClub ministry to include the summer months (something not previously offered); continuing to grow the worship component to that ministry on Wednesdays; and exploring the opportunity to add a second day of weekly KidzClub ministry when school starts back in the fall. We will also be multiplying our offerings of community meals and events. Where we previously offered those quarterly, our goal is to now offer these kinds of events monthly. Let me be clear again, our South Euclid Campus is not closing. If our current metric of what it means to be "church" is limited to a gathering once a week on Sundays, then the past three years have taught us nothing. What used to irritate me the most during the peak of the Covid crisis was when I would hear individuals tell me that our "church had closed." My response would always be the church has never closed, only the buildings did. We never, since the onset of that crisis, missed multiple weekly worship offerings as well as numerous and ongoing weekly groups. Our local mission efforts and our community impact actually grew when our buildings were unfortunately closed.
These have been challenging times with no playbooks, with no research data, and no experts with whom to consult. I am proud of our continued efforts these past three years to widen the circle and continue to connect diverse people who share a common brokenness, with Jesus. This current moment and these developments are an unceasing commitment to that end. If you have further questions or want to explore ways that you can volunteer and help in these expanded efforts at our South Euclid Campus, please contact Pastor Scott at email@example.com. I, for one, look forward to worshiping on Wednesdays with our KidzClub ministry whenever I am in town this summer.
May 17, 2022
In yesterday's eNote, I shared my pain, distress and lament over the recent events in Buffalo (and subsequently Laguna Hills, CA). I stressed the need for people of faith to resist evil, injustice, oppression and hate "in whatever forms they present themselves.". This is one of our core membership vows at Garfield Memorial Church and The United Methodist Church.
Today, I want to lift up the flip side to the spiritual discipline of resisting what is evil; and that is affirming what is good and right and pleasing to God. There is much injustice and evil in our world, country and society; but there is also much good. That is why Paul, speaking to a community that was already experiencing unjust persecution, implored them saying, "Let us not grow weary in doing good" (Galatians 6:9).
While we have had great reason to lament over the weekend, tomorrow we have an amazing opportunity to rejoice. In our most recent call out for baptisms at our South Euclid campus, all of those who responded were youth from our Kid Club ministry. In that their "church" is on Wednesday afternoons versus Sunday mornings, we are having our first ever "Baptism Wednesday" tomorrow at South Euclid. With the permission of their parents and the celebration of their families and church family, several youth will be baptised at 4:30 PM tomorrow toward the end of Kid Club!
This is the antithesis of that which requires us to resist... this requires us to AFFIRM. As the father of the prodigal said to the stingy elder brother "We had to celebrate!" If you need a lift like I do, come join Terri and I and others at our South Euclid campus (1534 S Green Rd, South Euclid) and celebrate at 4:30 PM. The service will be short, so come promptly. Come celebrate as we fight back against the forces of darkness and continue to build the kingdom of love and light.
May 16, 2022
This eNote comes to you today with a heavy heart. My body is in Cleveland but my heart is in Buffalo, NY. Something most of you probably do not know about me is that when I graduated from college, I was headed to law school. I was enrolled at Case-Western University School of Law here in Cleveland in 1985. I was consumed with a singular mission. I wanted to work for Amnesty International or the Southern Poverty Law Center and fight against white supremacist domestic terrorist groups whose enrollment had grown exponentially in the early 1980’s. Having had my eyes opened to the depth of the sin of racism and its continued tearing of the fabric of our country, I viewed these groups the way the great German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer viewed the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was prepared to give his life fighting against that kind of evil, and in my opinion, so was I. A call back to the family business, a deferment to law school, and the rest is history. God had a different path and call upon my life.
The passion to thwart evil in the building of God’s Beloved Community has not waned, however. When I joined Christ’s Church as a teenager, I took a vow “to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, repent of my sin [and] …to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.” These vows are as significant to me as my marriage vows. You, who are members of Garfield Memorial Church, made this same vow when joining the church. To “resist” is not passive. It is not simply offering “thoughts and prayers” when continual acts of evil and hate repeat themselves again and again and again.
There are churches across our country where conspiracy theories like White Replacement Theory and other articulations of Christian Nationalism and White Supremacy are, at worst, endorsed, and at best passively ignored. In Matthew 13 & Luke 13, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a woman putting yeast in the dough. “Yeast” was never used positively in the scriptures of the Old & New Testaments. It was a “corrupting” element to be avoided. So, for example, Jesus warned to “beware the yeast of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6). Even in Jesus’ parable, where Matthew writes that the woman did this until the flour was “permeated” and Luke says until it was “leavened” – both of those words can literally mean “corrupted.” I hear Jesus saying, “I want my people to go out and corrupt the corruption of the gospel and the corruption of the world.” Our 10 Year Vision at GMCUMC states that “We want to be the yeast in our communities, the single-cell that exponentially grows to bring new life, leading to lasting peace.”
The only way to lasting peace is through the active resistance of evil and hate. These acts are not finally about mental illness. There is mental illness all over the world that does not end up with manifestos being written with the same themes, thoughts and language again and again. This is the direct action of willful men (and almost always men) seeking to indoctrinate and manipulate vulnerable young men into an ideology that is from hell itself. Do not be deceived. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [only!] …but against spiritual forces of evil in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). So as we walk, work and worship together as one… resist. Resist with conversations, actions and attitudes with acquaintances, family members, co-workers, etc. Dr. King said on August 31, 1967; “If America does not respond creatively to the challenge to banish racism, some future historian will have to say, that a great civilization died because it lacked the soul and commitment to make justice a reality for all people."
I pray that the then, “future,” and now current historians, are not writing our history in Charleston, Charlottesville, El Paso, Pittsburgh and now Buffalo. Jesus said, “The time is at hand, the kingdom has come near. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). “Lord, I renew my vow to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” I pray that you will join me.
May 2, 2022
On May 1 we wrapped our "Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives - Discover Your Place at Jesus' Table" Teaching Series where we've looked at the many meals Jesus shared with others, from tax collectors to sinners to Pharisees.
These words from Terry Walling (sent to Pastor Scott by Randy Blackford) are a fitting coda for the series:
The future belongs to the…
Curators of the Table. Protectors of the dialogue.
These are the ones who know that the future will often be more about the table… than the pulpit.
A meal. A coffee. An environment. Relaxed. Open-ended conversation. A space. A place. Life slowed down.
Listening. Asking. Hearing. Listening some more.
Things you never heard or knew about your neighbors. Learning things you never knew about yourself. Talking well into the night.
A safe-place to surface questions that few dare to ask. Where answers are often few. To hear perspectives that formerly threaten. To see and know the actual person, not just the differences.
Don’t stop setting the table.
Don’t stop creating spaces at the tables. Trusting the Spirit to be very present.
Teach us. Show us.
Apprentice us in the table.
Living out the incredible gift of hospitality.
- Terry Walling
April 18, 2022
On Easter, I shared my message from John 20 when Jesus appeared to Thomas. I spent a lot of time with Thomas the past couple of weeks in preparation for that message. I have always felt that Thomas has gotten such a “bad rap” in Church History, being labeled “Doubting Thomas.” He was held up in my earliest Christian Education as an example of what we should not do, as one who “doubted God.” I have always felt that Thomas more accurately represents our true spiritual experience, as he struggled with his faith following the loss of his dear friend Jesus.
I just learned that in several sectors of the Orthodox Church, the Sunday following Easter is known as St. Thomas Sunday. In some places it is called “Antipascha,” which literally means “the renewal of Pascha” or Renewal Week. Basically, it signifies the “renewal” that comes to Thomas “a week later” (John 20:2), after the Resurrection, when Jesus appears to him. I really love that!
Easter ought to have an after effect! You have probably heard of “aftershocks” following earthquakes. These are subsequent quakes that follow the main event. One scientific journal states that, “Aftershocks can continue over a period of weeks, months, or years. In general, the larger the main shock, the larger and more numerous the aftershocks, and the longer they will continue.” Matthew records that Easter came as a “great earthquake” (Matthew 28:2). I would argue that there has never been a larger one! If science is correct that “the larger the
main shock, the larger and more numerous the aftershocks, and the longer they will continue,” then Easter should reverberate in us continually.
Thomas was literally “shaken” out of his own personal faith crisis by the miracle of Easter. When my mother got angry with me as a child, she would literally shake me while she instructed me about my bad behavior (maybe you have heard the expression “shake some sense into you”). I think our world needs a good “shaking” right now. My prayer is that Easter might “shake some sense” into all of us. It sure did for Thomas.
Church History records that Thomas went on in his missionary journeys to bring the Gospel to India (Thomas is widely viewed as the “patron saint” of India); which then became the launching point for Christianity to be shared in China. You probably know that the two most populated countries on our planet are India and China - accounting for over 37% of the world’s population (the United States accounts for 4.25% by comparison). So much for “Doubting Thomas!” Thomas’ after effect extended the gospel to close to half of the world! May it be so with us as we continue to “widen the circle!”
April 4, 2022
“I am a slow unlearner. But I love my unteachers” (Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing on the Edge of the World).
This quote caught my eye several years ago, as I think it pretty accurately describes my academic and intellectual journey. One of my five signature strengths according to Strengthfinders 2.0 is “Learner” Strength (click here for information on the next session of Ministry by Strengths). I love learning… I hunger for new books, new thoughts & insights and new information. Yet, I have learned that most of my learning in life has followed “unlearning.” In fact, most if not all of my learning only happened after the whiteboard of my preconditioned assumptions and preprogrammed prejudices were wiped clean.
This truly began for me after leaving Boardman High School in Youngstown, Ohio following my junior year to attend my senior year at Lake Worth High School in West Palm Beach, Florida. This literally occurred at the end of the first decade of post-apartheid America and the first ten years in the history of our country of actual integration. I left a school where everyone looked alike, dressed alike, ate at the same restaurants, and went to the same churches. I landed in a school with an extremely diverse student body ethnically, culturally and economically. Roughly 30% of the student body of nearly 12,000 (yes, you read that correctly!) was Caucasian, while the other 70% was made up of African-American, Hispanic, Islanders, etc. We had students from the wealthiest families in Palm Beach and students from the impoverished neighborhoods of Boynton Beach. My world suddenly expanded exponentially. My Learner Strength went on overdrive, and I quickly realized how unequipped I was intellectually and emotionally for such a world.
Upon arriving at Colgate University the following year, I attached myself to some incredible “unteachers” who helped me to “unlearn” and learn anew, as I voraciously signed up for classes and teaching withheld from me in my youth… Women’s Studies, Black and Africana Studies, Native American Studies, Classes in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, Gay & Lesbian Studies (as they were called at the time). There have been countless movies made and stories written of people living in a world that is more illusionary than it is real (think Matrix, etc.). In each of these, great lengths have been taken by those in power to perpetuate the false reality. One of my favorites was the 1998 psychological comedy-drama, The Truman Show. In it, a man named Truman Burbank (who has basically been hijacked at birth) is supplanted into a false world of an expansive television set that is the only reality he knows. He is completely unaware that his every move in this fictitious creation is being viewed my millions of people around the world. Truman begins discovering unusual elements, however, such as a spotlight falling out of the sky in front of his house and a radio channel that precisely describes his movements. Through a series of events, Truman notices a staircase leading to an exit door. The “producer” pleads for him to stay in this artificial world where he “has nothing to fear.” Instead, Truman escapes and the “show” ends with a shot of the open exit door.
I think that Jesus the Christ is the greatest “unteacher” in the history of the world. He punched a hole through the barriers of heaven and earth, the world that is and the world that is yet to come, and taught us the truth about both. His teaching was, “You have heard it said… but I say to you” (Matthew 5:21-22, etc.). He taught us the truth about the kingdoms of this world and the true Kingdom of God. As we approach the beginning of Holy Week this coming Palm Sunday, we see Jesus exposing history and crying out for us to “unlearn” the lies we have been told that began with that very first lie in the Garden of Eden, “You will not die…you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5-6). And the human race who more often than not “does not know their right hand from their left” (Jonah 4:11), has believed that ever since. On the cross, Jesus reveals the ugly truth about this sinful and fallen world. Do not hide your eyes from it. On Easter Sunday, just like The Truman Show, he “ends with a shot of the open exit door.” Make a commitment this Easter season to “unlearn” the lies of hatred and war and division and conspiracy theories and a claim to your “individual rights” at the expense of others. Jesus said, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9). Follow him through the open door of Easter as it leads to new learning, belter learning, and new life.
March 28, 2022
Our current teaching series for Lent & Easter, “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives: Meals with Jesus” has been both fun and heartfelt for me so far. It has been fun going out with Pastor Scott and Pastor Terry into the community, visiting local restaurants and interviewing chefs and owners. I hope you have been watching these each week, whether in worship or on our website. (Here's a link to the Diners, Drive-Ins & Drives playlist on YouTube.) It has been enlightening getting input from persons in the food industry outside of church as to why they think Jesus spent so much time (up to half of his ministry!) eating with people at tables. We continue to hear themes from them around “real life happens over a meal,” vulnerability, authenticity, no pretenses or walls to get over, safety. We also hear a lot about how much they appreciate a church lifting up their work and supporting them after the difficult years that they have been through recently.
It has been heartfelt, even heart rending, as I think I am experiencing more and more the power of what Jesus was doing, and is still doing, calling us to intimate fellowship with him at his table. It is extremely difficult to hide from a God like this. A God who pontificates from pulpits can be avoided. A God who sits with me eye-to-eye over a meal is inescapable. What God can do with us at table is immeasurable. Sara Harmeyer learned that in a profound way.
In 2012, Sara quit her job as charity and fundraising events organizer at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Dallas. She remembered being happiest the year she worked at the Red Porch Cafe—a restaurant out of her own home. She writes, “That was the best year of my life. There was something about gathering people, the food, being connected.” She envisioned inviting neighbors to her backyard for a meal and asked her father to construct a table seating 20. Using the Nextdoor website, she invited 300 people and more than 90 came: “I was absolutely blown away. I realized that night, as people kept coming down the driveway, that people just want to be invited.”
Over the last six years she has hosted more than 3,000 people. She now runs Neighbors Table full time and has placed tables in 28 States, with the aim of placing at least one table in all 50 states. She delivers the western red cedar tables herself to families as well as businesses and churches. They each cost $1,700 and up. She is often there for the first meal and gets to know her customers: “Most people getting our tables want to be part of what we’re doing and want to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
She was recently interviewed by Real Simple magazine and told her interviewer: “Two thousand years ago, we were invited to love our neighbors, and that is for sure what drives me. The world is a little crazy right now, and we could all use more love in our interactions. A lot of people need to feel included and seen. And it’s hard—my neighbors are not all like me. But there are ways we can connect, and the table is a beautiful, natural place to do that. When you’re sitting at a big table, you feel like you’re part of something.” Jesus wanted us to feel part of something, it is called the kingdom of God. He wants us to see that he has a very big table, one where we can sit even “in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5). Life change happens here. World change happens here. I hope to see you at the table.
February 7, 2022
The great American writer William Faulkner once gave an incredible image, saying that we should not seek to be monuments, but footprints. “A monument only says, ‘At least I got this far,’ while a footprint says, ‘This is where I was when I moved again.’” Is your faith journey more like a monument or a footprint? Monument faith settles, it gets comfortable, it feels entitled, and it gets defensive when challenged. Footprint faith takes risks, it is intrigued about what new thing or new information might be just around the corner, it takes joy in the journey and lives in a constant state of adventure. Monument faith wants to sit and look back and cherish what led to the building of the monument. Footprint faith leaves markers of where they have been for others to follow. They invite you to rest along the way; to look around and give thanks, but always get up and keep going.
When you read the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – it seems like Jesus was always on the move. You can get tired just reading it through the eyes of those who were following him. He was always on his way somewhere. His earthly life reads like a “Triple A” (AAA) Travel Guide. From Bethlehem to Egypt back to Galilee and on to Nazareth. From Nazareth to the Judean wilderness, back to Galilee, to Capernaum to Bethesda, all around the Sea of Galilee, to Cana, to boat crossings to Gentile Territory to Kursi, Tyre, Sidon and Samaria, back to Galilee, down to Jericho, up to Bethany on to Jerusalem – and that is an extremely abbreviated list. The Gospels record much of his travel itinerary not occurring over the course of a long life, but over the course of three years. Jesus got around! Those who have traveled with Terri & I to Israel and the Holy Lands to “walk where Jesus walked,” can tell you we walked an awful lot every single day!
At one point, people warned him to slow down, that Herod wanted to kill him and that he should stop for a while and relish in his popularity in Galilee before heading to Jerusalem -- the seat of religious and political power. I love Jesus’s response: “Go and tell that fox for me: Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way” (Luke 13:32-33). Jesus is saying, “Sure I can stop and build a monument. I’m healing, casting out demons, and in a few days I’ll finish here. I could build a monumental ministry right here; but tell Herod to follow my footsteps. I have a mission to accomplish.”
When you read the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) of those earliest ancestors who followed God, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Ruth; they often referred to themselves as “sojourners” (e.g., Exodus 2:22). The word for sojourner can also be translated pilgrim. Eugene Peterson,in his book on discipleship entitled, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, talks about “Pilgrim Faith” … and Pilgrim Faith is Footprints Faith. He writes, “Pilgrim (in Greek – parepidemos) tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ… The Letter to the Hebrews defines our program: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (In light of my opening image, you might say, “so many footprints to follow”), let us lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
When Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2), he is saying don’t conform to the monuments of this world and stop… but keep going down the road of transformation. Join us this Sunday, February 13th, (in-person or online) as we continue to MapMyRun and seek TRANSFORMATION.
PS: In light of the drop in COVID cases in Cuyahoga County (down 88% since January 11th and down 92% since December 18th), we are returning to our Pre-Omicron Surge policy for In-Person Worship of “Face Coverings are recommended but optional for fully vaccinated adults.” As to Children’s Ministry, we continue to follow the trajectory of local schools and are paying attention for current updates.
January 31, 2022
We are two legs into the race of our Teaching Series, “MapMyRun: Let us run with perseverance the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Pastor Steve & I ran the first of the four legs of our journey as laid out in our Kingdom Concept created by the Holy Spirit and written down by our Vision 2020 Strategy Team. That first leg being depicted the word EXPLORE. In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek contends that the greatest leaders always know that they are students. We live a life of spiritual exploration through worship, prayer, study, fellowship and service.
This past Sunday, I passed the baton to Pastor Scott at Pepper Pike, while Pastor Steve kept running at South Euclid for the next stage which is CONNECT. John Wesley said that “The Bible knows nothing of solitary community.” We were made for community, created in community (two not one), and Revelation says that we will be raised in community – in the New Jerusalem, the great city, not as individual believers floating on clouds with harps and halos. We were designed for the Beloved Community, and Pastor Scott reminded us that we cannot enter into the Beloved Community until we confess that we are part of the Broken Community in need of grace.
This Sunday and next we will begin the longer leg of TRANSFORMATION. Someone once said, “You can be saved all at once but change takes a little while.” Dallas Willard, a great teacher of discipleship and spiritual transformation once wrote:
"Disciples of Jesus are those who do not just profess certain views as their own but apply their growing understanding of life in the Kingdom of Heaven to every aspect of their life on earth."
I love that, in that it shares that our job is not to “work our way into heaven.” Our job is to “bring the Kingdom of Heaven into earth and deeply into our lives.” That takes transformation. So bring your hard hat and shovel the next two Sundays as we dig deep into how to let Jesus reshape us through transformed hearts and minds and into transformed lives.
January 18, 2022
With origins dating back to 2005, MapMyFitness became a veteran of the online health and fitness space, having built a suite of websites and apps like MapMyRUN, MapMyRIDE, MapMyWALK, et al, that allow fitness novices and enthusiasts alike to track and store their running, cycling, walking and hiking activity. Over the years, the startup has rounded out its expanding fitness platform with a bevy of complementary services like route planning, nutrition tracking, fitness calculators, event planning and by integrating with over 400 trackers, devices and wearables. In 2013, Under Armour, the Baltimore-based sports clothing giant purchased MapMyFitness, one of the largest mobile fitness communities out there at the time with 20 million users.
With the New Year now in 2022, many make resolutions with the most predominant one for decades in our country being physical fitness and losing weight. Physical fitness is a worthy goal. The Apostle Paul took this image long ago in his letters to the Early Church and insisted that spiritual fitness was an ultimate goal as well. So many times he uses the image of runners, Olympics and marathons as an example for the Christian life. At the end of his own journey he famously said to those he was passing the baton on to that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept my faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. ” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The “crown” was the Greek word for the laurels that were put on the heads of Olympic runners who had finished their race.
In Galatians when false preachers came in to discourage believers that the gospel of grace that Paul had preached to them was an incomplete message, Paul returned to this image saying, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7). And to the Corinthian Church that was beginning to stumble in many spiritual directions he wrote, “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26).
In this New Year, we are following Paul’s teaching to MapOurSpiritualRun. We want to avoid “running aimlessly.” We have all been through a lot over the last two years and it is time to “get back in the gym” and work on our spiritual fitness. Our Vision 2020 Team laid out a strategy for us at Garfield Memorial Church to maintain a process of widening the circle of faith, hope and love, both individually and collectively. It is a four-part continual process of: EXPLORE, CONNECT, TRANSFORM, COMMIT. We are going to spend the next six weeks digging deep in this basic training and building a firm spiritual foundation in 2022. So join us as we seek to “run with perseverance the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
January 10, 2022
In At Canaan’s Edge, the third volume of his classic series of writings on the Civil Rights Movement, Taylor Branch records an interesting moment in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. just two months prior to his assassination. Dr. King and his strategy of nonviolent resistance against the forces of apartheid and racism had fallen under critique by other black leaders. He was currently planning the “Poor People’s Campaign” to unite people across ethnic groups to highlight and find solutions to many of the problems facing the country’s poor. Dr. King’s staff was concerned whether or not other rising leaders in the black community would support this effort.
On Wednesday, February 7, 1968, Stokely Carmichael declared that the Black United Front would neither support nor oppose the Poor People’s Campaign and while he no longer supported nonviolence, he vowed to not criticize fellow black leaders in public. King’s staff rejoiced, but Dr. King was incensed. Several calls by staff shaken up by Dr. King’s strong rebuke have been preserved on the insidious FBI wiretaps. “Dr. King berated them for agreeing glibly that Carmichael could ridicule nonviolence so long as he did not attack King. He said the priority should be to protect nonviolence – not him” (At Canaan’s Edge, 690). For Dr. King, the mission of the Beloved Community was everything.
Later that same evening, he gave a message at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Even after yet another obviously tumultuous day in the life of this Kingdom leader, he declared:
“And if I can leave you with any message tonight I would say don’t lose hope… It may look like we can’t get out of this thing now. It may appear that nonviolence has failed, and the nation will not respond to it. But don’t give up yet. Wait until the next morning.”
I cannot think of a more relevant message for America today then these words spoken fifty-four years ago. They truly penetrated my soul. Christian writer Phillip Yancey has said that Christians always live on Holy Saturday, that day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yesterday, Pastor Terry preached from 1 Peter 1 on a “Living Hope.” If you ever wonder what that looks like in living color, remember this snapshot from Dr. King on February 7, 1968. Resisting injustice and evil in whatever form they present themselves in the moment, and “waiting for the next morning” … Easter morning.
I am glad that our nation will pause next Monday to remember this message and this messenger. We invite you to join us this coming Sunday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, January 16th. We will welcome a guest artist from L.A., Taylor Hall, who wrote an incredible song that went viral after the death of George Floyd. Our Guest Preacher will be Rev. Santes Beatty. Santes was the Director of Multiethnic Ministries for the entire Wesleyan denomination and is currently serving as Lead Pastor of Mosaic Midtown Church in Detroit, MI, a growing and vibrant multiethnic church (https://www.mosaicmidtown.org). Join us this coming Sunday in-person or online for a great day of hope, commitment and celebration!
January 3, 2022
My pattern for ministry for over three decades usually sees me collapsing after Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is my “Super Bowl” that all of the “season” has been building to. Habitually, I take some down time at the “end of the season” to ramp back up when Lent and the journey toward Easter begins. In my “down time” I try to get quiet and do some recreational reading – reading that has nothing to do with what I am preaching or teaching on. Over the last week or so I picked up a book on the “Great Awakening” in America and England in the early 18th Century.
The Great Awakening was a massive turning to God through revivals, field preaching, camp meetings, repentance and conversion. The whole concept of being “born again” (John 3) emerged from this movement. Although the horror of slavery was existent and poisoning our soil, the movement was extremely multiethnic. There are records of crowds of whites and blacks and Native Americans marching through New England towns holding hands and singing loud and passionate hymns to God.
Many historians trace its beginning to Jonathan Edwards’ Northampton Church in Massachusetts and around the Connecticut River valley in 1734-1735, where a group of “young people dismayed by the recent deaths of friends” began to face their own mortality and turn to God in fervent petition and prayer. This passion spread like wildfire throughout the valley region. I was extremely intrigued by an event that occurred seven years earlier that some say was the most significant revival in all of New England. In 1727, a major earthquake shook the region and sent terror through communities.
Thomas Prince of the Old South Church in Boston records that “the terrible shaking has led to a wonderful Reformation. People had abandoned their grievous sins and had vastly thronged the churches. Many hundreds had come forward for baptism, covenant renewal, or admission to Communion. The terror of the earthquake had transformed into the delight of revival.” (Thomas Kidd, The Great Awakening: A Brief History with Documents, Baylor University, 2008).
I had to set the book down after reading that and reflect on where I was a year ago. Following 2020, I naively thought to myself that people would be “vastly thronging the churches.” My wife said at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, all that she could hear God saying was “Do you need me now?” I am not sure that many of us heard that or responded. I set myself up for failure in 2021 as I was so happy we made it to the finish line after 2020 that I guess I must have thought that things like the pandemic and political division would just magically disappear at the turning of a New Year. I confessed in a message about hitting my own personal wall in 2021 and it becoming for me the year of the “Great Disappointment.” I realize now that I had not heeded Jesus’ warning about not “laying up your treasure” in the wrong place (Matthew 6:19-20).
After setting the book down I returned to a passage of scripture that has been pivotal to me in ministry and one that I realized I had not reflected on at all in 2021. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28). There is only one kingdom that “cannot be shaken.” So if our hope is in politics, economics, career, achievement or comfort… one question, “How is that working out for you?” Psychologists and social scientists say that after a year of reevaluating and readjusting in 2021, Americans are collectively entering the 6th stage of grief: a pursuit of meaning and purpose. I believe that can only be found in the One who said “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). That was the awakening that occurred in the 1720’s and following and what I pray will occur in the 2020’s and beyond. This Sunday, let us begin our 2022 spiritual journey together as we seek “a new birth into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).
December 6, 2021
Luke tells us that Christmas begins in Nazareth. Nazareth was a town of one hundred people living in caves, which was the most affordable form of housing at that time. Five miles northwest of Nazareth was Sepphoris, a town of thirty thousand, and one of the most “cultured” cities in all of Palestine, featuring great concert halls, theater and some of the finest schools of the time. During the holiday season, people are more likely to go to the Sepphoris’ of the world. That’s where the lights are brightest and the shopping is the very best. God, however, sent the angel Gabriel to announce to a young girl in Nazareth that she would bear the Son of God.
This states to me a few important truths. There is nowhere that you and I can go that God can’t find us. There is never a time, not one second, that God doesn’t notice us. We can all end up in our own personal “Nazareth’s.” Yet, even there, if we listen intently enough, we may hear the sweet sound of angels singing, “Rejoice… you have found favor with God… blessed are you.” My college chaplain once told me “The problem with Christmas is that we have made it a magical time; but there are those who can’t feel the magic and thus feel left out.” If you are not “feeling the magic” this season due to grief, loneliness, financial or vocational hardship, stress, feelings of insignificance… know that the “Word become flesh” is with you.
That’s the very reason he came. Jesus stated that he had a singular mission “to seek and save the lost.” He did not come for the food, the shopping or the great music, he came for you. And he would have come even if you were the only person on the planet. “Wait Chip, that’s a stretch,” you may be thinking. Do you remember when there were only two people on the Earth and they had just committed a great act of disobedience... How did God respond? He came walking in the garden where they were and calling their names. Erma Bombeck once wrote an important truth that as a parent, you will only be as happy as your unhappiest child. That’s why Christmas happened. As Phillips Brooks wrote, “No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in.” It was because of the brokenness and sin of the world that Jesus came. So if you are stuck in some kind of Nazareth this season, remember that Christmas always begins there…. Always.
PS: A big “Thank You” from Terri and I for your support of our concerts for Afghan refugee families here in Cleveland. We are having another one this Saturday at our South Euclid campus (click here or scroll down for more details). Talk about being stuck in Nazareth! You are literally furnishing numerous homes for these dear souls. In a season when we remember that there was “no room in the Inn,” you are literally building rooms for displaced children of God. I praise God for your generous hearts.
November 29, 2021
On Sunday, December 5th we will begin a journey together of following the Three Kings. Dia de Los Tres Reyes or “Three Kings Day” will be our theme for Advent and Christmas this year. In many parts of the Latin world, the Three Kings holiday on January 6th is observed annually. People revel and follow in the footsteps of these “wise” kings who set off to greet Jesus’ arrival into the world. In places like Cuba and Puerto Rico groups of singers are formed in “trullas” to create spontaneous joy.
These groups perform surprise visits on homes caroling into the late hours of the evening. These surprise “attacks” are known as “asaltos” where a home is “assaulted” or “held up” with joy. They are intended to be fun and joyful pranks to wake the family or owner of the home. Typically when the group reaches the last home at dawn, they are rewarded with a hot, delicious “sopon,” a soup made with rich meats.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a little spontaneous joy this season. Join us on Sunday as you will receive a booklet with everything you ever wanted to know about Three Kings Day. There will be recipes, activities for children and families, and more. Let’s widen our circle of joy this season as we follow the kings.
October 18, 2021
During the earliest days of the Church, two devastating plagues struck Rome. One in 165 CE took the life of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. That plague known as the Antonine Plague lasted 15 years. Scholars debate whether it was one plague or two, whether it began in Mesopotamia or Eastern China and whether or not it was smallpox or measles. Some ancient records say it killed 10% of the Roman Empire, others say as high as 33%. The second plague came in 251 and is known as the Cyprian plague – named after the Christian Bishop of Carthage. 5000 people were dying per day in Rome during this massive plague.
In his book, The Rise of Christianity, sociologist Rodney Stark notes that Christians’ behavior during these plagues were directly tied to its growth. The Christian precept to tend the sick differed from the pagan attitude, which was often abandonment of plague victims. Cyprian’s sermons during the third century plague have been preserved. “He challenges Christians to care for others, to risk themselves, and to remember Christ in whose image they are called to be. Non-Christian sources corroborate the fact that, again, Christians stayed, they risked their own safety to nurse others and survived at a higher rate. Importantly, Christians nursed everyone, not just those in their own community. The Roman emperor Julian, known by Christians as Julian the Apostate, was radically anti-Christian and wrote to a pagan priest “the impious Galileans in addition to their own, support ours, it is shameful that our poor should be wanting our aid.” Thus Christian and radically anti-Christian sources agree on how Christians responded to the plague, that they stayed and cared for others, and not just for other Christians…. During plagues, Christians risked everything to help those in need and became a beacon for others. Their message of eternal life in Jesus Christ drew others in and the credibility of their message came from their actions. The risks they took, their care and compassion for others, proved that they really believed the gospel… Aristotle taught that the gods cared nothing about human beings. You go out of the temple of Isis and nobody said 'Give your money to the poor," Stark notes. He contends that what Christianity gave to the world was nothing less than a “new vision of what it means to be a human being.”
I have revisited Stark’s commentary on Christian attitude and actions during these plagues several times during our current 21st Century plague with COVID-19. That’s why a recent article by a Christian physician in Canada named Dr. David Deane caught my eye. Looking back on the Christian conduct during the early plagues, he writes the following:
“What this means for us today is clear: If Christians do not live differently during this time of pandemic, then we are telling the wider world that relationship with Christ does not make a difference. If Christians act with no more love and compassion than everyone else, then Christians are witnessing to the fact that the presence of the Holy Spirit (who is love itself) …does not make a difference. Early Christian action witnessed to who Jesus Christ is and what Jesus Christ has done when it counted most. Their radical challenge to us is to do as they did.
Now, we know far more about disease than they did. Therefore, our love and compassion will look different. We are not called to take the risks they did because we know that these risks can spread disease. Our witness may be less dramatic, but it must be just as real. The consequences of the current pandemic are legion. Our world is suffering economically. Anxiety, depression, and stress are increasing. Families are fraying. People need support. This is not simply about health care. It is crucial that people will look back on this time and note the charity, compassion, joy, and courage that identified Christians during this pandemic… Christian action must be marked by faith, hope and love, whether it’s in the hospital or the school, whether it is in being attentive to the needs of neighbors, or even in turning the other cheek to an anxious family member. Challenges like this pandemic look at Christians and ask — “Is your faith real?” The Early Christians answered this with a resounding “yes”. It is important that we answer likewise.”
Each year on the first Sunday of November we celebrate All Saints Day where we read the roll of members of GMUMC who have passed on to the Church Triumphant in the last year. We light a candle in their honor and list their names in our bulletin and pictures on our screen. This year, we want to invite any of you who have lost family or friends to this pandemic, to send us their name, date of their passing, and picture so we can honor their life and your loss as well. We will also light a candle in honor of ALL the saints who have impacted each and every one of us and are named silently in our hearts. As we light candles, let us set ourselves ablaze with the light of Christ for a hurting world. Hear Jesus say to us again at this very time, ““You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).
October 4, 2021
Fred Craddock was one of the greatest teachers of preachers in American history. I have read all of his books and listened to many of his sermons. Pastor Scott actually studied under him in seminary! I remember hearing him tell the story of his father. Growing up, he said, his mother took him and his siblings to church, but his father never attended. He would regularly complain about Sunday dinner being late as the rest of the family went to church weekly. When the pastor of the church would reach out to him, he would always respond angrily, “You don’t care about me. All the church cares about is another name, another pledge!”
Always the same, “Another name, another pledge! That’s all the church cares about.” Craddock claimed he heard his father say that thousands of times. But, he reported, there was one time that he didn’t say it. His father was in veteran’s hospital and down to seventy-three pounds. Cancer had ravaged his body and he could not speak nor eat. Craddock flew in to see him one last time, and he noticed that his hospital room was littered with flowers and plants and a stack of cards “twenty inches deep” beside his bed. Craddock read the cards and notes and discovered that every card, every plant, every flower were from individuals and groups from the church.
When his father noticed him reading the cards, he wrote a line from Shakespeare on the side of a Kleenex box since he could not speak. It read: “In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.” Craddock asked, “What is your story Daddy?” His father wrote, “I was wrong.”
When I was a young preacher serving my first church and walking the streets of Elyria, Ohio, I often had people snarl at me and say, “I don’t need the church,” when I would identify myself as a local pastor. I always said the same thing, “Well the church sure does need you.” I honestly want to go back and kick my 32 year old self and apologize to everyone I said that to! That response sure sounds like “Another name, another pledge” looking back on it. What I wish I would have said, and what I say now is, “Friend, you really do need the church… we all do.”
Now, when the church becomes just another social club, self-help center or public service agency, then no, we really do not need another one of those. But when the church is the “ecclesia” that Jesus talked about in Matthew 16:13-28 (ecclesia = “people who have been called and set apart for a mission”); then yes, we need that movement very, very much. As part of Christ’s Church, this amazing assembly of “believers, seekers and doubters” as my spiritual mentor used to call it, I find hope, strength, encouragement, accountability, acceptance, forgiveness and love. Yes, love, real “agape love;” the kind that Peter found after he had blown it and wrote about saying, “Above all else, love one another deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Friends, if we did not need the Church, Jesus would not have planted it! The Church was God’s idea, not ours. I pray that you are finding ways to connect or in Peter’s words “being fitted into” the Church (1 Peter 2:5). I think 2020 and 2021 went a long way in teaching all of us that we are not wired to do this thing called life alone. We have several new small groups starting. I pray you might continue to find more and more ways to connect. Thank you for “being the Church” here at GMUMC. I love and need you all very much.
September 27, 2021
This morning I awoke “the best kind of tired.” It was a busy and full weekend at GMUMC; and something dramatically changed for me. In 1982, the great broadcaster Vin Scully was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. He told a story that has stayed with me these many years. It was a story of a western Native American tribe nestled at the base of the Coast Mountains near the Pacific Ocean. The chief of this tribe had a “rite of passage” for young boys becoming men. The boys would set out from the base of the mountain at dawn and journey up as high into the mountain as they could go returning by no later than midnight, and bringing with them some token representing how high they had climbed. One year four youth set out upon this trek.
As evening came the youth began to descend. The first youth returned with a sprig of spruce. The next with a branch of pine, and a third with an alpine shrub. The fourth youth was nowhere to be seen. The chief and others waited at the base of the mountain with campfires crackling in the night. Just before midnight under a full moon with stars dancing in the sky the fourth youth returned exhausted to camp. “What did you bring back?” the chief asked. “How high did you climb?”
The youth answered, “Where I was there was no spruce nor pine to shield me from the sun. There was no flower to cheer my path. There was only snow and ice, barren rocks and cold hard ground. My feet are torn and bloodied. I am worn out, I am bare handed, and I have come home late.” “But,” he said as a wondrous look came into his eyes, “I saw the Sea!”
Friends, the past eighteen months have been the most difficult and trying of my 31 years of vocational ministry. I came to take up the reins as Lead Pastor of GMUMC on Sunday, September 26, 2004. This past Sunday, September 26, 2021, I quietly celebrated my 17th anniversary of being your pastor. And on Sunday, September 26, 2021… “I saw the Sea.” The difficulties of the pandemic are not over. It and the political and social unrest that our country continues to travel through may be with us for years. But on Sunday, September 26, 2021, like that exhausted young boy with bloody feet and bare hands, “I saw the Sea.”
For the past two weeks many have labored at our South Euclid campus relaunching our worship community there on September 11th and officially beginning our ten year work toward a Renaissance of Reconciliation through all of our efforts locally and globally. We hosted 40 church leaders from across the country who came to be part of a weekend long Learning Lab getting a full blown immersion and training with us from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon (you have helped train over 450 churches the past ten years). And on Sunday morning, the waters of baptism began to flow openly again after 18 months of a baptism in the parking lot here, a baptism online there. We never quit climbing the mountain, but there was something about nine individuals from seven families openly and publically coming into the waters in public assembly that made our collective cups “runneth over” (remember, seven is always the number of completion and / or perfection in the Bible).
Naeem Fazal, whose journey to Christ came as a teenager in Kuwait emerging from the wreckage of the first Gulf War, was the right one to lead us with a message of hope out of the wreckage of 2020 and 2021. Naeem challenged us to not always be the ones limping into God’s presence preoccupied with our needs, wants and issues; but to be the Church that Jesus empowered in Acts 1:8 and go into the world to share this power through hearts full of the gospel of grace, peace and love. He referenced technology that has measured electromagnetic waves from our physical hearts being felt 3-5 feet from our bodies! (www.heartmath.com). And he challenged us to align our hearts to pulsate God’s heart into the world which will fulfill Jesus’ mission for his church to “tear down the gates of hell” (Matthew 16:18).
On the last night of his earthly life, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, gave his famous “Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, TN. In it, he said in essence, “We have some difficult days ahead… but I’ve been to the mountaintop and God has allowed me to look over to the other side.” I know that we have some difficult days ahead as individuals, as a country and as a Revelation 7:9 church movement at GMUMC. We are only running about 35% of our pre-COVID in-person attendance numbers, our online numbers are down, there are still concerns for the vulnerability of children in schools, still vaccine hesitancy among many, still financial concerns among many and for us as a church (we are currently 6% behind 2020 giving overall and will need yet another big December to have any chance of hitting our 2021 budget). I know the current news, the tea leaves and the weather reports… “But I saw the Sea.” And deep within seeing the look in all of your eyes who have hung in there and are coming back whether in person or online, ready to serve. I know that the witness of Garfield Memorial Church is going to be alright and continue to shine light, hope and reconciliation in this all important decade.
Two scriptures I want to leave you with following Baptism Sunday to just marinate in your spirit following the spirit of this eNote:
“And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:18)
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
september 6, 2021
I have always had a “love / hate” relationship with Labor Day. Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Labor Day weekend was the apex of the summer and part of a five day immersion and celebration of the Canfield Fair (then, the largest county fair in the nation). When it was over, however, it was the end of summer and back to school. Later, Labor Day weekend would be the weekend in 1990 where Terri & I exchanged our lifetime vows. So, for thirty plus years, Labor Day weekend has always been near our anniversary and a weekend to get away or at least pause, before the busy stretch run of each ministry year leading ultimately to Christmas. It has been for me a brief respite before a time to get back to work.
Labor Day was initiated as a tribute to workers whose efforts contributed to the success and prosperity of the society around them. In Youngstown, Ohio, the epicenter of the American Steel Industry, labor was a really big deal. Labor unions were celebrated and revered. In elementary school it was core curriculum for us to learn the elements of making steel or “pig iron” to be exact (iron ore, limestone, coal or “coke”). We were all aware of the major steel furnaces that lit up the night over our city in a rather eerie way.
The Bible talks about a building project initiated in the call of Abraham and Sarah (Abram and Sarai) in Genesis 12 and accelerated in the arrival of the Master Builder Jesus (Jesus was born the earthly son of Joseph, a “teton” or “builder”). His project dwarfed even the mighty steel mills of my youth, for his task was to build the eternal kingdom of God… and yes, to commence its build “on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus recruits us as followers to take up this task. “For we are co-laborers, God’s servants, working together… (in) God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9).
Today, I read Matthew 9 as a true Labor Day devotional. Jesus’ pace in this chapter is exhausting. In 9:1-7, he initiates a busy chapter by healing a paralytic. He recruits Matthew the tax collector in 9:9 and then in 9:10-13, he eats with other social outcasts restoring them to the covenant, thus igniting the ire of religious leaders. In 9:18-26, he restores a young girl to life and heals a woman suffering from a hemorrhage for 12 years. In 9:27-34, he heals not one blind man but two; and then in 9:35-38 the chapter ends with these words: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Tired yet?)
Jesus has sacred labor for us to do… not to burn us out but to build us up as well as the world around us. For those of us who love and serve Jesus, it is a “work of faith and labor of love” (1 Thessalonians 1:3). This world is crying out for loving, Spirit filled, kingdom committed laborers. This Saturday, September 11th from 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM, even if 1000 of us show up at our South Euclid campus for our Renaissance of Reconciliation, the laborers will still be “few.” The task of reconciliation in an increasingly diverse and painfully polarized society is vast… the obstacles and enemies set against the building of God’s kingdom are immense. Yet, Jesus says, I call you to be “salt” and “light” and “yeast” with the faith of a “mustard seed” – the little elements that can change the entire whole! Please listen to the attached video invitation and join us. Bring your labor of soft eyes, warm hearts, and simple greetings and smiles. Hold out your hand to others and introduce yourself as a member of Garfield Memorial Church and tell them how glad you are that they are there. Know that with each kind word and simply through the ministry of your presence, the kingdom inches closer. See you on September 11th!
Click here to help with the Renaissance of Reconciliation Festival!
august 2, 2021
Where do you run to? Our contention during our current teaching series is that the place to run to when you are out of words, out of prayers, and maybe even out of tears, is to go to the Psalms. It has been said that if you drop your Bible on to the floor and it fell open to dead center, you would be in the Psalms. The Psalms encapsulate the entirety of spiritual, psychological and emotional life. Here are quotes from two giants in the Church that I was not able to read at all services yesterday:
“It (Psalms) might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible… so that anyone who could not read the whole Bible would have anyway almost an entire summary of it, comprised in one little book” (Martin Luther, emphasis mine).
“It is my view that in the words of this book the whole human life is comprehended and contained. Nothing to be found in human life is omitted” (Athanasius, emphasis mine).
Each week throughout August, one of our teaching pastors will share a Psalm that we run to when the “mountains tremble” and the “earth changes” (Psalm 46:2-3). This coming Sunday Pastor Steve invites you to run with him to Psalm 42.
In addition to running to the Psalms, I thought I would share some practical suggestions on places to run to as a member or friend of GMUMC when you are in need of care, community or spiritual growth.
Run to Worship – My spiritual life changed long before ministry, when I quit ending my week in worship when I was able, and began to start my week in regular worship. In Olympic language, worship became my “starting block” to launch out into a new week with all of its challenges with a renewed energy and spirit. If you can attend In-Person Worship, great; if not, be sure to tune in via www.garfieldchurchonline.org, our YoutTube channel, FB Live, or via Boxcast app on numerous devices. You can also go and playback any service during the week if a Sunday gets overwhelmed.
Run to Small Discipleship Groups – Pastor Scott is working and training for a new Microchurch initiative which may launch by Lent 2022 (stay tuned). In the meantime, contact Pastor Terry at firstname.lastname@example.org and look out for various short-term On Ramp small group opportunities coming this fall.
Run to House of Prayer – We are so blessed to have one of the most significant transformational prayer ministries that I know about anywhere. If you need prayer or want to learn more, email email@example.com. You can attend House of Prayer live on various Mondays or join in via conference call on Mondays at 7:00 PM- dial 339.209.5473.
Run to Care Ministry – If you are facing a family or personal crisis, in the hospital, in need of meals, or would just like to talk with a pastor or other leader for care, communion and comfort, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call our church office at 216-831-1566 and ask for Terri Freed.
Run to Serve - I cannot explain it, but serving is one of the best ways to overcome your own hurts or loneliness and grow in your faith. One of the truths that I have learned along the way is, “If you want to heal your own hurts, reach out and heal the hurts in others.” Email us at email@example.com or go to www.garfieldchurch.org/volunteer to see specific opportunities.
Run to Israel – Terri Freed & I are planning to lead our third group from GMUMC and beyond February 2-11, 2022. These are truly spiritually life-changing trips. During the height of the pandemic Terri said to me, “I need to get back to the Sea of Galilee soon!” There are truly five Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Land! To see a full itinerary of the trip go to: https://www.wilcoxtravel.com/10-day-tour-of-israel-with-chip-and-terri-freed or to request a brochure and sign up for an informational gathering go to: www.garfieldchurch.org/holyland
See you Sunday as we meet together at the Psalms!
July 26, 2021
This coming Sunday, August 1st, we will begin a new five part Teaching Series from the Psalms, entitled “Where Do You Run To?” Pastor Terry shared yesterday that the Psalms were written over the period of 1000-400 BCE, and that there are 150 of them preserved in the Bible. (A partial scroll of the 151st Psalm was discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and if you travel with Terri Freed and I to the Holy Lands in February 2022, you will be able to see it!). There are many “types” of Psalms – psalms of praise, psalms of lament, psalms of thanksgiving, wisdom psalms, royal psalms, etc. The Psalms were the hymnbook for the nation of Israel and for the Early Church. The Psalms read as poetry and as prayers. The Psalms delve into the “inner life” of faith.
Walter Brueggemann is one of the world’s most prominent Old Testament scholars. In his book, The Psalms and the Life of Faith, he suggests that the Psalms can guide and steady us through the cycles of disorientation and reorientation. A cycle, he suggests, as inevitable over the course of life, but one we tend to resist. He writes:
“Human beings struggle to maintain some kind of equilibrium in his or her life… Two movements in human life are important: (a) deep reluctance to let loose of a world that has passed away and (b) capacity to embrace a new world being given… Human experience includes those dangerous time of dislocation and disorientation when the sky does fall and the world does indeed come to an end. The figure of disorientation may be taken psychologically and sociologically. It includes all facets of our common life and experience. The times of disorientation are those when persons are driven to the extremities of emotion… In the company of Isaiah we are “undone (Isaiah 6:5). There is no speech, and there is no safe reality about which to speak…
Human persons are not meant for situations of disorientation. They will struggle against such situations with all of their energies. Insofar as persons are hopeful and healthy, they may work through to a new orientation. But as Freud has seen, human persons are mostly inclined to look back, to grasp for old equilibria, to wish for them, and to deny that they are gone… Situations of dislocation evoke the dangerous language of extremity, which may express hope, but more likely resistance.”
I think this insight is so pertinent to us today. Our country has been going through a time of dislocation with inevitable demographic changes that has resulted with extremist language and resistance. Churches in our country have been going through dislocation and instead of looking ahead have reached back “to grasp for old equilibria” content to manage decline into non-existence. We as individuals continue to go through dislocation with the loss of jobs, homes, and most importantly loved ones, leading us into the extreme emotions of grief.
Brueggemann is so profound when he notes that at these times of extreme emotion, “There is no speech, and no safe reality about which to speak.” William Sloane Coffin preached a sermon at Riverside Church in NYC entitled “Alex’s Death” following the loss of his 27 year old son, Alex (we have free copies of this sermon in our “book store” and it is one of the greatest messages ever preached, in my opinion, on dealing with grief). In it, he talked about well-meaning Christians who bombarded him with New Testament scripture during this time. He wrote, “It’s not that these words are untrue, it’s that grief renders them unreal.” There really is no speech in these moments. After preaching the funeral for my oldest sister in 1994, the most helpful friend for me was the one who drove to my house and said, “I just came over to cry with you.”
So, where do we run to at these times? As pastors, we are going to suggest running to the prayers, the poems, the hymns found in the Psalms. They give verse to the unspeakable and hope for the impossible. Each week, for the five Sundays in August one of our teaching pastors will share a favorite Psalm that they run to. I will start us off this coming Communion Sunday with Psalm 46. I hope you will join us in-person or online each week.
PS: I am challenging my family to read one psalm a day for the month of August and spend a few minutes reflecting on it. Will you join us?
JUNE 28, 2021
Yesterday, we allowed the Book of Jonah to speak to us about fear. I shared that there is “external fear” depicted in the storm at sea where the sailors were panicking sure that they were doomed unless God intervened (Jonah 1:4-16). External storms and tragedies remind us that we are mortal and finite. They show us how little “control” we have over life. As I have often shared, when you feel like you are losing control, the only thing you are losing is the illusion that you ever were in control. The second kind of fear is an “internal fear.” This is what poisoned Jonah. God called him to go to Nineveh in the heart of Syria, Israel’s sworn enemies. Jonah had deep hatred in his heart for the Ninevites and refused to go. In fact, we learned that he sailed in the exact opposite direction! Inner hatred toward others is only the manifestation of a fear that we don’t measure up. So, we need to make sure that there are others that are less valued than we are.
Fear is mentioned three times during the passage referred to above. Yet, the final fear is different. The sailors had been urgently afraid of the storm and the imminent prospect of perishing. Yet, after the storm has passed and it was clear that they will all survive, a new kind of fear emerges. “The sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows” (Jonah 1:15-16). I called this developing a “Holy & Healthy Fear.” It is what the Bible calls “the fear of the Lord.” That has so often been misinterpreted of fearing that God will judge me and send me to hell. Some preachers through the years have preyed on that fear. The sailors aren’t cowering, however, they are now worshipping the One true God. This kind of fear is better interpreted as “awe and wonder” at what God has done on our behalf.
I ended the message with a rather obscure poem and hymn written by John Newton, the writer of “Amazing Grace.” I read recently that Amazing Grace is estimated to be performed 10 million times annually and has appeared on over 11,000 albums. We sang it last Saturday at the “home going” service of a beloved member of GMUMC. Newton’s life is well documented as a captain of an English slave ship and investor in the slave trade. In 1748, during his return voyage to England aboard the ship Greyhound, Newton had a spiritual conversion of sorts. He awoke to find the ship caught in a severe storm off the coast of Ireland and about to sink. Like the sailors in Jonah 1, he started bargaining with God, promising to get baptized if the ship were spared. Newton began praying for God's mercy, after which the storm began to die down. Newton kept his promise, but became more a practitioner of religion than a true follower of Jesus Christ.
Newton confesses to this truth in his autobiography, “Out of the Depths” (revised and updated with commentary by Dennis Hillman). Newton writes, “Soon I felt that I was ‘religious.’ This seeming goodness, however, had no solid foundation and soon passed away like a morning cloud or the early dew. I was soon tired of the effort, gradually gave it up, and finally became worse than before.” Later, under the discipleship of others, Newton came to true faith. He gained a “Holy & Healthy Fear,” that he wrote about in Amazing Grace with the words, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” Newton relinquished all ties to the slave trade, made reparations and died serving his Lord and Christ’s Church.
Before his death, on December 21, 1807, his niece, a Miss Catlett, recorded his last words to her, “I have been meditating on a subject, ‘Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul’” (Psalm 66:16). One who lives with this kind of “Holy & Healthy Fear of the Lord,” also lives with great hope. Listen to his words to us his readers again from his autobiography: “But we are not there yet. We still feel the weakness and failings of our sinful nature. Because of our own ignorance and unbelief we often fail to understand the Lord’s dealing with us, and we are all too ready to complain. If we knew everything from God’s perspective, we would rejoice.”
It was in this light that I ended my message with these words by this great saint. I hope these words continue to bless and encourage you as they do for me:
“His love in times past forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last in troubles to sink
By prayer let me wrestle then he will perform
With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm”
june 21, 2021
For whatever reason, God has planted us as a teaching team at GMUMC in the Book and the story of Jonah for the next five weeks. (To watch or rewatch the first message click here.) I have been so struck in preparing for this series how relevant Jonah is for our current time. We are living in an increasingly polarized society. So many are entrenched in certain “camps.” Jonah is called by God to leave his camp and go talk about God to people who live in an antagonistic and opposite “camp.” Jonah refuses and takes the first ship out of town. He would rather die than go to “those people.”
Jewish tradition held that any prophet who refused to deliver the Word of God was condemned to death. I heard a rabbi recently say that this is why Jonah was asleep in the boat during the storm when everyone else was panicking… he knew that he was doomed and was resigned to his fate. Interestingly, when the sailors wake Jonah and begin to badger him with questions, “Who are you? What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” Jonah replies, “I am a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:8-9). I was interested to learn that the word interpreted “Hebrew” in English is the word, עברי (Ivrie). It literally means “one who crosses over.” It was first applied to Abraham as one “who had come from the other side of the river” (the great River Euphrates) and who God had called to cross over into the land of Haran and reveal the true God to the world. His descendants became the “Ivrim” (plural, “Hebrews”) or “those who have crossed over.” Jonah is utterly exposed when he makes this confession. He is literally saying “I am one that God has called to cross over who is refusing to cross over!”
I think this is a particularly pertinent illustration for Greater Cleveland, Ohio. I did some extensive research recently into Cleveland’s history of being labeled one of the most segregated cities in America by sociologists. In fact, Princeton sociologist, Doug Massey lists Cleveland as “hyper-segregated.” As recent as 2015, Greater Cleveland was listed as the number one overall most segregated city in America by studies led by, for example, the Huffington Post, 24/7 Wall Street and the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto. Our tattered history in this area centered around “a river” that divided the city into East and West sides. This became a defining point for ethnic segregation as well. As Cleveland native and African-American journalist, Mark Reynolds writes, “Berlin had a wall, Cleveland has a river” (“Black in the Middle: An Anthology of the Black Midwest,” September 1, 2020). As spiritual “children of Abraham, we, too, are called too “cross over” from whatever side of the “river” we find ourselves on at any given moment. That is the “ministry of reconciliation” that we are called to in 2 Corinthians 5:11-20.
When Jesus said, “Follow me,” he meant it. Let us not forget that he crossed over the greatest boundary in history between heaven and earth. He terrified his earliest disciples by saying continually “Let us cross over to the other side” (Mark 4:35); taking them out of their Jewish camps on one side of the Sea of Galilee to Gentile camps on the other side. No real reconciliation will ever take place in our world without pioneers in Christ, true Ivrim, who are willing to follow him in the ministry of “crossing over.” Like Jonah, I am declaring myself a “Hebrew” today, who “worships the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land,” how about you?
june 1, 2021
The movie U-571 is a fictional war story based on the events of WWII. Matthew McConaughey stars as an executive officer named Andrew Tyler on a US submarine with hopes of being a captain. He is repeatedly turned down in his quest, as naval superiors are uncertain that he has the mettle to sit in the “first chair.” In a tragic military encounter with the enemy at sea, Tyler ends up serving as captain on a vital mission after the actual captain of his boat is killed. After the panic of the battle, the surviving crew members assemble under now “Captain Tyler.” When the disconcerted seamen ask Captain Tyler what they were going to do, he responds, “I don’t know.” At that point the “old salt” veteran and Chief of the Boat, played by Harvey Keitel, pulls him aside and says, “Mr. Tyler, a captain never says, ‘I don’t know.’ A captain always knows!”
Years ago, William Ernest Henley wrote the poem Invictus, which famously states:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
I read a glowing commentary on this poem dubbed “The Art of Manliness” on a website listed as www.artofmanliness.com (I’m dead serious!) that states, “When life kicks you in the gut, get back up and kick life’s butt.” It sure sounds good, I guess. The only problem is the poem is probably the furthest thing written from the gospel, of Jesus Christ that I can think of; and the even bigger problem is that far too many of us have bought into it. “I am the master of my fate; the captain of my soul…” … and captains “always know,” right?
2020 brought me to my knees as a faith leader. If any faith leader tells you differently, they are either flat out lying or they have read Invictus too many times. I have learned the power again of saying, “I don’t know.” During 2020 and beyond, far too many people are sure that they “know.” Everybody “knew” everything about COVID… whether or not it was an overblown hoax or the greatest plague to hit the planet, people were just sure that they “knew.” If you doubted it, you just needed to ask them or read their social media. Everyone was sure that they “knew” whether or not to wear face masks or face coverings. Everyone was sure that they “knew” what their Constitutional rights were or weren’t (Many “Christians” seemed more sure of that than they even did Biblical passages!). In the midst of heightened racial anxiety, everyone was sure they “knew” everything about race, racism and the existence or non-existence of systemic racism. I mean in a world where we are all masters of our fates and captains of our souls, we all have to know… just ask the Chief of the Boat in U-571.
They once asked Jesus, (yes, Jesus with a capital J), when the end of the world would come, and he replied, “About that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Wait, the ultimate captain of all of our souls said he didn’t know?! He better not apply for any naval captain positions anytime soon! Friends, as one of your officers here at GMUMC, when asked if we have handled everything perfectly the past fourteen months in light of COVID-19? I answer, ‘I don’t know.’ Are we doing everything correctly as we emerge from this global pandemic? I don’t know. What I do know is that we were and are doing everything we possibly know how to fulfill one of John Wesley’s tenants to “Do No Harm” and keep everyone as safe as possible, while still being the Church together. Friends, I don’t know all the right answers as we continue to navigate unprecedented times. I continue to ask for your prayers and patience as we figure it out together with the Holy Spirit as our guide. If you “know” exactly what we should do, what I should do, and the best way to be the Church right now and into the future… well captain, I know I am asking the impossible. But for those of you willing to live with nuance and in a world where we don’t always know, but where God most certainly does, then I invite you to join me in a journey of discovery of what the Church might become as we live out our ten year vision to ignite a Renaissance of Reconciliation.
What I did know then and I do know even more keenly now is that the Church Is not a building and that the Church that Jesus sought to build was never meant to be a one hour event that you showed up for in a specific place once a week. My friend, Dr. Leonard Sweet once wrote a book entitled, “Out of the Answer and Into the Question.” Let’s walk together asking good questions, knowing that the world’s true Answer continues to walk with us daily! Humming the old gospel tune as I close, “Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand; but I know who holds tomorrow, he’s the One that holds my hand.”
may 24, 2021
N.T. Wright in his book The Day the Revolution Began tells the story of a Roman Catholic archbishop who shared about a day that three mischievous young boys decided to play a trick on a Catholic priest in a church. The priest was hearing confessions and the three youth took turns going in and out of the confessional booth “confessing” all kinds of made up terrible sins and crimes to see how the priest would react. When the priest came out of the booth, two of the youth hurried off but the third one was stuck in his presence. The priest pretended to take all of his make believe “sins” seriously and imposed a penance upon him. He was to walk to the far end of the church where there was a figure of Jesus hanging on the cross. He was to look Jesus in the face three times and say, “You did all of that for me and I don’t give that much’ – snapping his fingers on the “that.”
The young man did it once. He did it a second time; but he was unable to do it a third time as he had “dissolved in tears.” He left the church that day a changed person. “And the reason I know that story,” the archbishop concluded, “is that I was that young man.” This morning I spent a little down time before the cross of Christ and meditated on our four measures that we have been focusing on in worship each week. I invite you to take a little time this week, go into your own “confessional booth” wherever you are, and ask yourself these four questions:
How am I loving my neighbors the way God loves them?
How am I putting the needs of others before my own?
How am I sharing the Good News of God’s love for all people?
Do I have meaningful connections with diverse people?
My spiritual mentor once told me that one day God will ask, “What did you do with your life?” And, he said, we will not be able to give words to that question as our life will be the answer to it. How is your “life” (and mine) answering those four measuring questions right now?
I am not much of a Country-Western fan. In fact, I have openly confessed that if enemies locked me in a room and made me listen to it two hours straight, I would probably give up all of our “national secrets.” When I was a teenager, my family ran the grandstand at the Canfield Fair (the largest county fair in the nation). Serving as head usher I was forced to stand at attention during all of the acts that would come through each year… even the many country western ones! One year, I was rather intrigued by Charley Pride. He had a presence about him that was captivating. He sang a song that year that as hard as I have tried, I cannot exorcise from my mind. The lyrics are as follows:
Take time out for Jesus He took time for you!
Take a little time in the mornin’
And You'll feel better all day
Take a little time for Jesus
To get down on your knees and pray
He took the time to die on the cross
So all the souls couldn't be lost
If you find your self slippin’ and the pain to do
Take time out for Jesus He took time for you
Sometimes you may be in a hurry
You have so many things to do
So don't forget about Jesus
Remember he didn't forget you…
Take time out for Jesus He took time for you
Take a “time out” today or sometime this week to wrestle with our four measuring questions for all members and friends of Garfield Memorial Church.
may 17, 2021
Matthew 16:13-20 is a foundational text for me. It was the source for my very first sermon as Lead Pastor at GMUMC way back on September 26, 2004. It was also the place I returned to at our mountaintop Landerhaven Worship Service in October 2013 where we committed to a 3.5 million dollar renovation of our Pepper Pike facility. It is the only place in the Bible where Jesus uses the word “church.” My focus in those messages was to get back to the root of what Jesus says that his Church really is – he uses a unique word in Greek, ecclesia, which literally means, “people called out and set apart for a mission.” It is also important to note that Jesus’ declaration about his Church comes on the heels of what tradition has called “the Great Confession,” where Peter declares, “You are the Christ, the Messiah.” After preaching about humility yesterday, I returned to a sermon on this same scripture that I had read years ago by William Willimon, a United Methodist Bishop and longtime Chaplain of Duke University.
The title of his message was “You Are the Christ… Now What About Them?” At the conclusion of his sermon, Willimon says the following:
“Note that first Jesus asks about them, “Who do others say I am?” … But then, quite quickly, Jesus moves to the heart of the matter. “Who do you say that I am?” That’s the question. The ultimate fate of others who do not believe in Jesus, the significance of their relationship to God, that’s a matter between them and God. Your greatest concern is not, “What about them?” Your care should be “What about me?” “What do I say about Jesus? How does my life – in the way I go about the world, in the manner in which I relate to others – how does my life demonstrate that Jesus really is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?”
I believe that we live in an all too much “What about them?” world right now. What if every time we felt the need to ask that question, we quickly changed the script to “What about me?” We learned on Sunday that when Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition,” (Philippians 2:3); that the term “selfish ambition” literally means “a spirit of divisiveness” in the Greek language. Paul is literally saying, “Do nothing to promote a spirit of divisiveness.” Now let me ask you, which question promotes a spirit of divisiveness? Is it “What about them?” or “What about me?” I think we all know the answer to that question. That’s one of the reasons I have always hated the term, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” It’s too sanctimonious for me. I prefer, “Love the sinner (always first and foremost) and hate your own sin anything that separates you from God.” My prayer today is that God’s Holy Spirit might work within me to refine my moments of “What about them?” and use them as opportunities for me to ask, “What about me?”
april 26, 2021
“At the center of the Universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything that we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings… that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service.” Those words of wisdom come from Fred Rogers, the iconic Mr. Rogers. On Sunday, we looked at our first measure from our Vision 2020 Team’s work – “How am I loving my neighbor the way God loves them?” What better place to turn than to one of the greatest “neighbors” in the history of our country? When he sang, “I always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you,” we believed him.
I was struck by an interview I heard years ago with Francois Clemmons — who played Officer Clemmons on Rogers' show — and had the first recurring role for an African-American on children's TV. “There was one particular scene Fred and I did where he had his feet resting in this plastic pool on a hot day and he invited me to come over and rest my feet in the water with him," Clemmons told the NPR podcast "StoryCorps.” "The icon Fred Rogers not only was showing my brown skin in the tub with his white skin, but as I was getting out of that tub, he was helping me dry my feet. I think he was making a very strong statement," Clemmons added about the episode, which aired in 1968. "And I discovered a friend for life.”
In today’s day and age, we seem to have taken Jesus’ command for us to love our neighbors and turned it into a version of “lecture our neighbors.” Loving our neighbors is putting our feet in the pool together and listening to one another… in spite of differences. It means making room for one another. Fred Rogers was an ordained minister and first and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ. When he heard Jesus say, “Love your neighbors… all of your neighbors” he took it to heart and put it into practice in his life. All of us who profess Christ as Savior must do the same. Let’s ask ourselves regularly, “How am I loving my neighbor the way God loves them?”
march 15, 2021
One year ago today on March 15, 2020, our church pivoted in the wake of a global pandemic and began to do ministry like never before. During the course of this unprecedented year, I was the guest on a national podcast and was asked, “How are you doing with all of this?” I answered, “Well, I think I’ve got a better idea of what Lewis & Clark must have felt like when they got into the canoe with Sacajawea.” There were no maps to view, no books to read, no experts to consult. There was simply an utter dependence on the Holy Spirit to lead us and speak to us through our innovation and imagination.
With the work I do with consulting and coaching pastors and churches nationally, the word that kept recurring over and over was “exhausting.” Leaders shared continually, “I’m exhausted… it’s been simply exhausting.” I read one definition of exhaustion as “the state of being used up completely.” I know that some of us are flat out spent!
Recently, I have turned to our earliest Christian ancestors for advice and encouragement for “such a time as this.” Spending time in the Book of Acts and reading historical accounts of the Early Church, remind me that the Church was literally born in a time much like this. No other world religion says that it was founded by its leader being rejected, tortured and dying an ignominious death on a Roman cross while forgiving those who were killing him. Whose followers and leaders would suffer similar rejection, torture and death. The extent of the Roman persecutions of Christians, not for a year but over centuries, was in a word, horrifying. Yet, the Church not only survived, it thrived. As early church leader Irenaeus famously stated, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” They didn’t gather for worship in sanctuaries or buildings… they didn’t have any. They gathered in homes and literally “underground” in places like the catacombs in Rome. They did not even have the Bible for heaven’s sake; that would not come along until the Fourth Century! Yet, scholars contend that it was in the first three centuries that Christianity had its most explosive and exponential growth to this day.
The only conclusion I have been able to come to is rooted in two premises in the Apostle’s teaching in the New Testament. One was an ineffable and eternal hope anchored in Christ (Hebrews 6:19) that no earthly circumstance could ever take away. The second was a spiritual discipline of endurance, persistence and perseverance. You hear this discipline echoed in many New Testament verses, such as, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1); or, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). In our culture rampant with consumerism, personal comfort and preference, this spiritual discipline can be too often absent in the American Church. I think this could be behind the recent polling that states that 1 out of 5 active church members in America have left church in the last year.
I don’t want to speak to the 1 out of 5 that left right now, however, I want to speak to the 4 out of 5 of you who stayed. Stayed active in worship, whether online, in-person or in the parking lot… Stayed engaged and connected through online groups and special events… Stayed regular in your financial giving and special Christmas giving that literally kept us strong and growing in widening the circle, and led to things like the creation of the Kids Can Thrive Arc Relief Fund that has already assisted families in dire need adversely affected by the pandemic… Stayed ready when called upon for massive food drives, yard signs of hope delivery, hospitality, serving in technology for worship, etc. I encourage you to google Bible verses around endurance, persistence and perseverance and read deeply from them; because that is what you have been practicing whether you have been aware of it or not. Continue to fuel that fire through these verses of God’s Word, and know that when you do your oldest Christian ancestors are smiling!
march 1, 2021
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-21). In 1866, those words of scripture pressed upon the heart of Reverend Samuel Stone and caused him to pen the words to the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation.”
“The church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ, our Lord;
we are a new creation
by water and the Word.
From heav’n he came and taught us
what perfect love can be;
through life and death he sought us,
and rose to set us free.
The church in ev’ry nation
is one through all the earth;
our charter of salvation,
one God, one faith, one birth;
one name together blessing,
one holy food we share,
to one hope ever pressing,
at one in work and prayer.”
Reverend Stone actually wrote twelve hymns based on the twelve “articles” of the Apostle’s Creed. He did this in response to a schism in the Anglican Church that arose in the Church of South Africa after the Bishop of Natal had denounced much of the Bible as fictitious. This hymn is the only one of the twelve that remained in much of European Church tradition. It was written on the ninth article of the creed, “I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints” (the word “catholic” means universal and does not imply Roman Catholicism).
This hymn literally began to play in my head this past Sunday when Pastor Steve gave his testimony of his first witness of “the communion of the saints” here at Garfield Memorial Church (you can see his message here). He shared that when he saw people… all people… “a great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9). And he saw “regular people,” not professionals “serving the body sharing in their common brokenness before Christ.” He said that he began to weep that day, and stated that “Something began to be healed in me that I didn’t know was broken.” That’s when the hymn began to play in my head as I too wiped away tears.
We don’t always get it right at Garfield Memorial Church. One of my favorite pre-message videos that we used to play said, “If you are looking for a perfect church, we aren’t it!” Yet, on Communion Sundays and Baptism Sundays here, we seem to get out of the way. We let the Holy Spirit do his work. As CS Lewis has written, “A secret Master of Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, 'You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,' can truly say to every group of Christian friends, 'You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.'” In those holy moments, there is only “one foundation” and “we are a new creation.” Join me and others at Christ’s table this Sunday, onsite or in your homes. We will peel back the onion a bit to examine Christ’s idea and hope for his church as demonstrated in a place called Antioch.
february 22, 2021
From yesterday’s message on “A Renaissance of Reconciliation: Recalibrate Your Compass:” (click here to watch or rewatch)
“All of us know the story that on April 14, 1912 that through a series of human errors, including discarding a communication of ice float in an unusual area, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic with over 1500 casualties. The ship that was called “unsinkable” now rests at the bottom of the sea. Twenty months later, in 1914,, Congress convened a hearing to discern what happened in another nautical tragedy. In January of that year, in thick fog off the Virginia coast, the steamship Monroe was rammed by the merchant vessel Nantucket and eventually sank. Forty-one sailors lost their lives in the frigid winter waters of the Atlantic. While it was Osmyn Berry, captain of the Nantucket who was arraigned on charges, in the course of the trial Captain Edward Johnson was grilled on the stand for over five hours. During cross-examination it was learned that Captain Johnson "navigated the Monroe with a steering compass that deviated as much as two degrees from the standard magnetic compass. He said the instrument was sufficiently true to run the ship, and that it was the custom of masters in the coastwise trade to use such compasses. His steering compass had never been adjusted in the one year he was master of the Monroe."
The faulty compass that seemed adequate for navigation eventually proved otherwise. This realization partly explains a heartrending picture recorded by the NY Times: "Later the two Captains met, clasped hands, and sobbed on each other's shoulders. The sobs of these two burly seamen are a moving reminder of the tragic consequences of disorientation, and a compass that is miscalculated.” A NY clergyman responded to the account by the Times by saying, “We need to (regularly) recalibrate our compass, tuning them to be directed to our Creator, our magnetic north.”
Last week, we sent out two documents to you from the ten month work of our Vision 2020 team. Our Vision Frame is a statement of our mission, our values, our mission strategy and our measures. We stated in the message yesterday that Lent was set up as a time for us individually to recalibrate our compasses and examine where we are in our walk with Christ. The work of our Vision 2020 Team was to do just that in recalibrating and discerning what our church’s direction is for the next three, five and ten years. Their work was not to decide that on their own, but rather listening for God’s voice in directing us on our path. In Revelations 2 & 3, Jesus sends out a universal message to all churches, stating that they had strayed from their mission and his vision; and that they needed to “listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church.” We want you to look over and reflect on our Vision Frame; and we would truly ask you to make a commitment to listen to all messages in this series leading up to Easter. You can see our Vision Frame by clicking here. If you missed yesterday’s message, you can listen to it (or any message along the way), by watching the entire service on our YouTube channel, Facebook page, Boxcast App on Apple TV, Roku or Amazon Fire; or listening to the message only on our website here.
This coming Sunday, Pastor Steve is going to dig deep on our Ten Year Vision, “A Renaissance of Reconciliation” (if you did not receive this document, you can get it by clicking here). Garfield Memorial Church has a special and unique message for Greater Cleveland and beyond. You have a special witness personally… as I have said over and over in many messages, “There are certain hands only you can hold. There are certain hurts only you can heal. There are certain people only you can reach.” Let’s take these seven weeks together to recalibrate our compasses!
february 8, 2021
Google the “definition of crossroads” and you will get a plethora of options. Crossroads in life… in literature… in history… in geography… in politics, etc., etc. A working definition for the concept of a crossroads is “a point at which crucial decisions must be made that will have far-reaching consequences.” Reading that definition as a spiritual leader, I feel like that was every Monday morning during 2020. In 2019, I sensed that the upcoming decade, 2020-2030, were going to usher in a crucial moment for the American Church (little did I know!). We launched Vision 2020 in January of 2020 and assembled a Vision 2020 Team to look 3, 5 and 10 years out for Garfield Memorial Church. The pandemic thwarted our efforts initially, but we were diligent to not let it defeat them. This team has just finished 10 months of work meeting for 4-6 hours every month, with two longer 2-day all-day Zoom “intensives” led by a national consultant with a process known as “Church Unique.”
“This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look… ask where the good way is, and walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16). The Vision 2020 Team answered this call. Their first and primary work was to “embrace dependence” and to “listen for what the Spirit is saying to the Church” (Revelation 2:7). With the Holy Spirit as the voice in their ears and the wind at their back they did the following:
- Created our Kingdom Concept – What is our Church Unique – What is our One Word?
- Defined our mission. What does it mean to “Widen the Circle?”
- Created our Vision Frame under our Mission, by tweaking our Core Values, defining the process by which people experience spiritual transformation under our mission and stating ways to measure whether or not people are truly becoming spiritually transformed
- Articulating our 10 Year Vision for living out our Mission
The Vision 2020 Team will be presenting the result of this work with our Church Council this Thursday, February 11th and then we will be sharing this with all of you. This is timely work “at the crossroads.” We are at the crossroads of slowly emerging from the effects of the global pandemic with vaccines being administered and mere months away for most of us. We are at the spiritual crossroads of the season of Lent and Easter – the early church set up a process of a forty day (plus 7 Sunday) walk toward Good Friday and Easter for self-reflection, prayer and preparation. So here is what we have planned:
Our Lent & Easter theme will be the theme of our ten-year Vision, “A Renaissance of Reconciliation.” Lent and Easter remind us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). On Ash Wednesday, February 17th, we will have a service of Prayer for this Mission, at 6:30 PM – this will be broadcast live on all of our online platforms and there will be limited in-person options as well (use this link for all worship options). Mother Teresa once said that, “Prayer is the mortar that holds our house together.”
On Sunday, February 21st we will begin our Lent & Easter Teaching Series on all online platforms, our Drive-In 9:00 AM Worship Service will resume, and limited in-person worship options will resume for Mosaic worship services at Pepper Pike campus. This Sunday, February 14th (Valentine’s Day) will be a good Sunday to watch two messages. Pastor Terry will be finishing our Teaching Series “Worthy” with the Benediction at 9:00 AM and we will welcome back national speaker Bob Lentz at 10:00 & 11:30 AM (Bob’s bio can be found here).
This is an exciting time at Garfield Memorial Church and I truly mean that in every sense of the word. 2020 has been a taxing moment for Christ’s Church in America. A significant number of churches closed their doors and as a national consultant I can tell you honestly, pastors are dropping like flies utterly exhausted and finding the work too hard. National studies have said that one in five church members have walked away during this past year. I began on January 5, 2020 with the first message in our Teaching Series on “Being a Fan or a Follower.” Fans have left, but Followers are ready to get back to work. I for one am ready. During the Montgomery Bus Boycott during the Civil Rights Movement, black workers refused to take the bus and instead chose to walk miles and miles to work. When interviewing one older woman as to how she felt, she stated, “My feet are tired but my soul is at peace.” As your Lead Pastor I can tell you after this unprecedented year, “my feet (and just about everything else) are tired,” but my soul is full of incredible hope.
february 1, 2021
Through the prophet Isaiah, God says the following, “Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (Isaiah 51:1-2). God is reminding people to remember their story. The nation of Israel was literally formed by one incredible and mighty act of God… the Exodus. Yet, so many times the people forgot their story and God had to remind them.
In the beautiful assembly of diverse people that make up the larger body of Garfield Memorial Church, there are many stories. In Ephesians 3, Paul declares that this has been God’s design and desire for Christ’s Church since its inception. Paul writes, “His (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known” (Ephesians 3:10). The word “manifold” literally means multi-colored in the Greek. This beautiful multi-colored, multicultural, multi-faceted, multi-generational gathering of stories walking in unity makes known the fullness of God on display for the world.
This month, we celebrate one of our treasured stories, as February is Black History Month. Here is a little background: “Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History,” is credited with developing Black History Month. Woodson, whose parents were enslaved, was an author, historian and the second African American to earn a PhD at Harvard University. He recognized that the American education system offered very little information about the accomplishments of African Americans and founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. In 1926, Woodson proposed a national “Negro History Week," which was intended to be a time to showcase everything students learned about Black history throughout the school year… It wasn't until 1976, during the height of the civil rights movement, that President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week into Black History Month.
Woodson chose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass, a famed abolitionist who escaped from slavery, and President Abraham Lincoln, who formally abolished slavery. Feb. 1 is also National Freedom Day, the anniversary of the approval of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865. Richard R. Wright, who was enslaved and became a civil rights advocate and author, lobbied for the celebration of the day. Although the day is not a federal holiday, President Harry Truman recognized National Freedom Day in 1949 and urged citizens to pause to contemplate its significance” (LaGarrett J. King, University of Missouri).
It is good to listen to one another’s stories. As we listen and learn, Paul tells us in Ephesians we see more of the fullness of God. That’s why he later prays in that same chapter, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18-19). Soong-Chan Rah has likened this kind of diverse church as a salad full of uniqueness. There are different forms of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives, carrots, and cucumbers, each with their own wonderful taste. The problem, he says, is we douse it all with ranch dressing so that is all we can taste. Resist that temptation!
So learn and grow this month as we listen to our black brothers and sisters tell their stories. Explore some new movies, speakers, authors, etc. If you are interested in some resources email Kimberly Chapmon-Wynne (firstname.lastname@example.org) or I, and we can make some recommendations. Let us live, love, laugh and learn together as we grow into the “fullness of God.”
january 19, 2021
This eNote comes to you on Tuesday, January 19th, as yesterday was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a national holiday. Over the course of 31 years of ordained ministry, I have required that any church offices I served to be closed and for all ministry staff to take the day off as a time to reflect on nonviolence and the quest for justice, or take it as a “day on” to go out and do something tangible to serve the poor and oppressed and build the kingdom. I have personally done the same. Yesterday was a “day off” for me to go back into my King writings and reflect. In fact, I did that the entire King weekend as our bishop, Bishop Tracy Malone brought us the message on Sunday. (You can see her message here.)
God is preaching all the time for those with ears to listen. I find it profound and meaningful that right in the middle of the horrific events of January 6th, the subsequent second impeachment of the current President, and the mobilization of 21,000 National Guard troops in anticipation of more possible unrest with the coming Inauguration this week of the next President… stands Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and weekend. Dr. King was God’s chosen vessel to stand tall in the midst of injustice that sought to derail the building of God’s Beloved Community.
As part of my study this weekend, I revisited Taylor Branch’s classic trilogy chronicling the Civil Rights Movement, which collectively total 2309 long pages of reading. I honed in on Dr. King’s last years, 1965-68, and most specifically his final months of February – April 4, 1968. These years were filled with tension. Dr. King’s relevance was being challenged. Most importantly his commitment to non-violence was being heavily contested. At one point, during those final months, he chastised his staff and closest friends profusely when they looked away when other leaders “ridiculed nonviolence, so long as they did not attack King.” Dr. King said that “the priority should be to protect nonviolence – not him” (Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, p. 690). When he self-identified as a Drum Major for Peace… he meant it, at great personal cost.
I re-read the last Sunday sermon he would ever give, which was delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC to 3000 inside and another 1000 gathered outside listening on loud speakers. King recounted the evils stacked against our nation: racism, poverty, the violence of the Viet Nam War – and he declared, “In summary, nothing will be done until people of good will put their hearts and souls in motion.” Now is yet another good moment for people of faith to “put our hearts and souls in motion.” Now is not the time to sit idly by, glued to our televisions hoping that the whole mess will just go away. It is time for us to pray dangerous and meaningful prayers, to risk being spiritually attacked, to reject dangerous conspiracy theories, to build bridges and not fences and speak real, authentic and hopeful “Words of Life” (John 6:68). There is a great Proverb that we should all seek to ground ourselves in right now. It states, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart” (Proverbs 27:19). What is your life, what is my life reflecting right now?
We will begin our teaching series “Worthy” this coming Sunday, leading us into a deeper understanding of worship and our most desperate need for it. Dr. King once noted how much the Civil Rights Movement was grounded in worship, as they would praise and pray and sing and preach for hours prior to exiting the sanctuary to kneel before barking dogs, firehoses and police batons in the streets. He shared the insight that praise is our protest to the evil and suffering in the world. Come this Sunday and hear how obeying the command to “Praise the Lord” in Psalm 147 fuels our hearts and our lives to reflect God. The world so desperately needs this, and so do we.
january 4, 2021
This coming Sunday we will begin a new teaching series entitled “Worthy.” The focus of the series will be around worship. The word worship implies giving worth to something. Some have defined the word to mean worth-ship. What ultimately gives you worth?
In his book, Encounters With Jesus, Tim Keller puts it this way: “Everybody has got to live for something, but Jesus argues that if he is not that thing, it will fail you. First, it will enslave you. Whatever that thing is, you will tell yourself that you have to have it or there is no tomorrow. That means that if anything threatens it, you will become inordinately scared; if anything blocks it, you will become inordinately angry; and if you fail to achieve it, you will never be able to forgive yourself. But second, if you do achieve it, it will fail to deliver the fulfillment you expected.”
David Foster Wallace was a bestselling postmodern novelist. Shortly before his death he delivered a commencement speech at Kenyon College where he said the following: “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god… to worship… is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough… Worship your own body and beauty… and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths… Worship power and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they are evil or sinful; it is that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.”
His point was that everyone worships, everyone trusts in something for their salvation, everyone bases their life on something that requires faith. The early church knew that to put anything in your life to give you worth other than God was fatal. Thus, they made worship of God the centerpiece of their life. In fact, they defined themselves through worship. The word orthodoxy came to define what was correct or proper in their lives of faith. That word is a combination of two words: “orthos” = right and “doxa”= worship. They defined themselves by “right worship.” And nothing was worthy of their worship other than Almighty God. In this series, we will explore the ancient order of worship and how it should influence and order our lives. Quakers call worship “centering.” Let’s center ourselves in 2021 through right and regular worship.
december 7, 2020
Lord Kenneth Clark, internationally known for his television series Civilization, lived and died without faith in Jesus Christ. He admitted in his autobiography that while visiting a beautiful church he had what he believed to be an overwhelming religious experience. He wrote, “My whole being was irradiated by a kind of heavenly joy far more intense than anything I had known before."
But the "flood of grace" as he described it, created a problem. If he allowed himself to be influenced by it, he knew he would have to change, his family might think he had lost his mind, and maybe that intense joy would prove to be an illusion. So, he concluded, "I was too deeply embedded in the world to change course."
I pray that I may never become “too deeply embedded” in anything to prevent God from changing the course for my life! Christmas disrupted history. May his disruptive grace disturb and move us into new life again this year. Come Lord Jesus.
november 9, 2020
Before Tom Hanks starred in the massive cinematic FedEx commercial called “Cast Away,” there was a book with a similar plot entitled Robinson Crusoe first published in April 1719. In the novel, Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked alone on a deserted island. To maintain his sanity he drew up two columns that he called the evil and the good. It went like this – he was cast on a desolate island but he was still alive; not drowned as his ship’s company was. He was apart from human society, but he was not starving. He had no clothes, but he was in a hot climate where he did not need them. He was without means of defense, but he saw no wild beasts as he had seen on the coast of Africa. He had no one with whom to speak, but God had sent the ship so near to shore that he could get out of it all things necessary for his basic wants. So he concluded that there was not one condition in the world so miserable that he could not find something for which to be grateful.
I think 2020 has all of us feeling a little Robinson Crusoe-ish. We have felt a sense of isolation, cut off from familiar people and places. Many of our routines have been disoriented, re-oriented and disoriented again. We hear terms thrown around like “new normal” and we hardly even have a baseline for what “normal” is anymore. Maybe November is a good time to “draw up our columns” and reflect on those things for which we are grateful. Thanksgiving is a holiday set aside to do just that. On November 22nd, we will launch a holiday teaching series entitled, “CHURCH@HOME... for the holidays,” which will run through Christmas and the New Year. In preparation for this series we are asking all members and friends of Garfield Memorial Church to tell us what you are thankful to God for right now.
You can do this by writing a note, sending a card, drawing a picture (I challenged our kids to do that Sunday in our Children’s Ministry Zoom call) and mail to our church office at Pepper Pike 3650 Lander Rd., Pepper Pike 44124) or scan and email us at email@example.com. The easiest way to do this is just go to our website – www.garfieldchurch.org – and click the box that says “What are you thankful for?” and fill it out. We will copy and paste it on to a holiday prayer card. All of these words of thanksgiving will fill our prayer wall of gratitude to God for the holiday season. We will send you pictures as our wall expands!
There are several places in the Bible that share the image of prayers being a “sweet fragrance” to the Lord (see for example, Genesis 8:22, Exodus 29:18, Leviticus 3:5, Revelation 5:8). Let us build a prayer wall of thanksgiving together and fill heaven with the aroma of gratitude!
PS: we have held an “After Party” following worship at 1:00 PM on Sundays for 7 consecutive weeks via Zoom. We are shifting to a new monthly format. The next two After Parties will be: Thanksgiving After Party Sunday, November 29th and Ugly Christmas Sweater After Party Sunday, December 13th!
october 19, 2020
Have you ever heard of Hanjo, Ethiopia? If you have not, don’t feel bad, I hadn’t either. In fact, I doubt many people anywhere have heard of it. It is a small remote village of 250 people. It probably does not show up on global security censuses nor make its way on to the agenda at the U.N. From now on, I will never forget Hanjo, Ethiopia nor the people who live there and are born there in the future. Why? Because Garfield Memorial Church’s first clean water well has just been completed there through Charity Water. Clean Water access is one of the most important aspects in the fight against world poverty and in support of global health. Here are some comments shared with us from Charity Water:
“At the end of 2018, you decided to be part of ending the water crisis by making a substantial investment in charity: water’s work in Ethiopia. The impact you have as a Water Project Sponsor is truly transformative, and we are celebrating with you today as you learn more about the work you’ve made possible! 100% of your generous donation funded 1 Piped System for people living in the Sidama and Gedeo Zones and the SNNPR Region of Ethiopia. Thanks to you, we’re one step closer to making sure that every single person on the planet has access to clean and safe water.
Your donation was part of a $2,000,000.00 commitment that funded 222 projects and brought clean water to 79,066 people! To promote sustainability, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) trains local Ethiopian artisans in masonry and plumbing, giving them the ability (as well as the physical tools they’ll need) to complete most maintenance and repairs. Throughout implementation of improved water sources, the IRC also empowers communities to assess their sanitation and hygiene challenges and develop community action plans to address these problems. It’s an honor to present you with this Completion Report. In my role as a Senior Portfolio Manager at charity: water, I oversee our partnership, implementation strategy, and commitments in Ethiopia. It has been an immense privilege to witness how life-changing clean water is for those in need…
Along with implementing water projects, our local partners also facilitate sanitation and hygiene initiatives to help promote everyone’s long-term health. These initiatives are often championed by community members themselves, who work hard to create positive change within their community.
Clean water means education, income, and health—especially for women and girls. It truly changes everything. Thank you for funding clean water and transforming futures for 250 people in Ethiopia!”
To read more click on this link https://www.charitywater.org/projects/289-28
Each year, Garfield Memorial Church depends on our Christmas offering to sustain our efforts to “Widen the Circle” of Christ’s love in Greater Cleveland and beyond (close to 30% of our operating income for GMUMC comes in December). Each year, we target special projects to go “above and beyond” in widening the circle if we hit our church goals. In the past 4 years, we have been able to build an entire playground at Crazy Horse School in the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation and three clean water wells through Charity Water! The work on wells 2 and 3 are currently on hold due to COVID-19, but we wanted to share the good news of the completion of our project in Ethiopia. If you contributed to our Christmas Offering in 2018 and / or 2019, I hope you take joy in being a shareholder in this celebration.
We are bombarded with bad news currently – new spikes nationally with COVID-19 and more divisive rhetoric with an approaching election dominate the news. I hope maybe it will give you a lift today that 250 people overlooked by the world are praising God for your commitment to Widen the Circle through “your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness!” (Membership vow).
October 5, 2020
In the 1990’s, I was asked to go to Ireland to help preach revival services through World Methodist Evangelism. Tensions in Northern Ireland still ran very high at the time. Prior to leaving, I remembered a story that one of my mentors, Dr. Tony Campolo, had shared years earlier. He said that he had participated in a service in Northern Ireland that truly changed his life. It was held in the town of Portadown. They held the gathering because they knew that the Orangemen were set to march through the Catholic neighborhood in that town in two days to taunt the people who lived there. Thus, a peace rally was called in the town hall.
Dr. Campolo shared that the place was a beat-up old building, and the windows on one side were covered with plywood because the glass had been shattered by bombs. Inside the hall, about a hundred people gathered fairly evenly divided between Catholics and Protestants. During the hours that followed people from each side of the religious divide begged forgiveness from the other. A Catholic man would tell of his wrong attitudes and confess to some mean and evil things that he had done to Protestants. Then, Protestants would call back to him, “We forgive you.” A Protestant man would then confess to horrendous things he had done against Catholics. And the Catholics would respond by saying, “We forgive you.” Dr. Campolo shared, “It went on and on like that until I was reduced to tears. The contrition, humility, and the prayers for forgiveness of that night were unparalleled in my experience.”
That story was on my mind when I arrived in Dublin. I was disheartened to learn that due to an IRA incident in the north, our preaching services in Belfast had been cancelled; and we would be doing all of our services in and around Dublin. While there for the week, I met some amazing young youth pastors who were working in Belfast trying to bring reconciliation between Protestant and Catholic youth. They felt that if they could share the gospel of peace with younger generations they could literally cut root of hatred out from under itself. It was dangerous work, they were continually threatened and they shared that their office had been bombed just the previous week. They heard that there were revival services being held and they traveled down to get some renewal before going back into the field to which God had called them.
I told them that they were heroes and that they would honor me by taking me north to see where they did their work. We traveled by train to Belfast and I walked with them and witnessed them talking to youth of both “tribes” who obviously knew them and were glad to see them. I asked if they were concerned to be doing this work right out in plain sight. One of them said, “We know that ‘they’ are always watching, but so is God.” They took me to the site of their bombed out office. There was a door blown off of its hinges laying there with a charred sign on it that I have never forgotten. It read, “If you don’t risk something, you risk everything.” What are you willing to risk this week in doing the work of reconciliation? See you at the “brick pile” (reference from yesterday’s message).
september 30, 2020
I saw this quote posted by Christian author and speaker, Dr. Leonard Sweet, who joined us online here at Garfield Memorial Church a few months ago: “The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.” Mother Teresa (St. Teresa of Calcutta). What a statement by a great saint who obviously lived the trajectory of the Revelations 7:9 Church which we examined on Sunday. What an important perspective on why we need to live out the call of our mission statement to “Widen the Circle!” To widen the circle, we seek to “connect diverse people who share a common brokenness, with Jesus.”
Winfred Ernest Garrison once wrote a poem that stated that, “Lord, your sea is so wide and my boat is so small.” Garrison learned of it from an old Celtic fisherman’s prayer; but many say the root of this prayer came originally from Latin America. It has a universal sentiment. President John F Kennedy kept this prayer as a plaque on his desk and used it in a speech dedicating the East Coast Memorial to the Missing at Sea on May 23, 1963. (He always kept it on his desk in the Oval Office and it is now in the JFK Presidential Museum and Library). After immersing ourselves in the vision of the Revelation 7:9 Church on Sunday “a vast multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language,” I think a new prayer could be written saying, “Oh Lord, your circle is so wide and mine is so small.”
God will widen his circle no matter how hard the human race seeks to break it apart. That is certain. Revelation says that we can either join God in this work or be run over by it. On this coming Sunday, we will look at what God did to “tear down the wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). This is a timely message and a timely topic. Join us on Sunday as we continue with our series Reconciled – this week’s message, Reconciled: The New Humanity.
Whether you are attending online or joining us in person at either 9:00 AM Drive-In Service or 10:00 AM Mosaic Service, please bring your own elements for communion (you must pre-register for 10:00 AM Mosaic and we can facilitate up to 75 – once we hit that number regularly, we will assemble a second option and time). Any form of bread & wine, food and beverage will do – your elements will be blessed. See you at Christ’s table of reconciliation this Sunday.
september 21, 2020
There is a wonderful exchange in Alice in Wonderland between lost Alice and the Cheshire Cat behind the looking glass. This conversation has been summed up as Lewis Carroll’s observation that “If you do not know where you are going then any road will get you there.” The word “righteousness” in the Greek language implies “right alignment.” It is a directional word. On Sunday, we dug deep into the story of Cain and Abel. Cain fell out of alignment with God due to his own self-centeredness, succumbed to anger, murdered his brother and was left to live as a “restless wanderer” on the earth. He settles in the land of Nod, East of Eden. Guess what the word “Nod” means in Hebrew? A place of wandering… aimless, directionless wandering.
Contrast that to Jesus on the last night of his life in the Upper Room with his disciples. John comments on Jesus’ disposition that evening, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God” (John 13:3). In Greek, the phrase “given all things into his hands” literally means he was given “complete power.” What was the source of that power? He knew where he had come from and knew where he was going. What was the result of that power? Let me let John tell it in the very next verses, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe… and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:3-5). Knowing where you are going in the future can fuel you with the power for grace, love, service and humility in the present.
Think of the powerful words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the very last night of his earthly life. He knew of the countless threats upon his life, of the FBI wiretaps and of the fact that at that moment he was the “most hated man in America” (words from his daughter Bernice King in retrospect). Yet he said that although he would like to live a long life, he wasn’t worried about that nor fearing anything or anybody. He said that God had taken him to the mountaintop and let him look over. He said he knew where we were going, “one day we will get to the Promised Land together” (what he so often called the Beloved Community – what Jesus called the kingdom of God). The next day, an assassin’s bullet shattered his body but his soul was already at peace. There is power in knowing where you are going.
The American Church is in crisis right now. Barna estimates that at minimum 20% of churches in America will not survive the COVID crisis. The fact that the church still exists as one of the most ethnically segregated institutions in America has affected its witness in a time of racial crisis and anxiety. Extreme political divisiveness that says “choose your party,” has in many cases become “choose your church;” forcing the American Church even further away from God’s core value of diversity and into more and more irrelevant homogeneity. If Pew Research and other such reporting agencies are correct, the number of pastors leaving ministry now and who will be leaving post-COVID and post-2020-21 will be staggering. I cannot speak for others, but what keeps me in the game is knowing where we are going. Revelations 7:9 clearly depicts where the Church is going. That future is secure. The only question is how does that give me / we / us power in the present? Do we abandon hope, settle for less, leave it, go hide in a bunker somewhere and say to God, “It’s up to you to fix this, it’s too difficult.” Habakkuk prophesied in similar times as these, and I am doing what Habakkuk says he did in Chapter 2, verse 1… As for me I will stand at my post. True followers of Jesus are called and required to get down on our knees and wash dirty feet if need be, to join Christ in his reconciling mission in the world and build the Revelations 7:9 church now… “On earth as it is in heaven.” So for now, that’s where you will find me, bruised, bloody and sweaty but hammer and nail still in hand.
Join us in worship on Sunday as we look at the Revelations 7:9 Church and teaser alert, hear our first in depth look into Pastor Terry’s journey to Woodstock in 1969!
september 14, 2020
Yesterday, we began our new teaching series entitled Reconciled. Our Vision 2020 Team has heard this word whispered again and again to them by the Holy Spirit. This has caused me to begin a deep immersion into the concept of Biblical reconciliation. I am only a few weeks into this reflection so I do not have ultimate conclusions to offer as of yet. Hopefully, all of us will glean more wisdom in this area as we travel together through this series. I can say this, however, at the outset. True reconciliation is daunting and extremely difficult work. As I mentioned on Sunday, there is a voice in the Church that speaks about reconciliation in sappy and superficial ways. For them, reconciliation means standing in an arena, holding hands and singing Kum Ba Yah. True Biblical reconciliation demands more. Jesus did not reconcile us to God through pats on the head, but through nails, a cross and a crown of thorns.
At the end of apartheid in South Africa, President Nelson Mandela appointed the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” (TRC) under the leadership of Bishop Desmond Tutu. I remember listening intently to many of the hearings during this project up until the commission’s final report in October 1998. Many of the testimonies were brutal. The horrors of apartheid had literally twisted and distorted the entire nation of South Africa. Tutu shared the story of Malusi Mpumlawana, an anti-apartheid activist and friend of Steve Biko who was martyred at the hands of white supremacists. Tutu remembers the day Malusi escaped the police after being routinely tortured and burst into his office in Johannesburg. Malusi said something that Tutu never forgot, and fueled his work leading the TRC, “These are God’s children and yet they are behaving like animals. They need us to help them recover the humanity they have lost.” There was no way to go forward without doing the hard work of reconciliation – a reconciliation that can only come from God. Being great leaders, Mandela, Tutu and others knew this and they began this most challenging work.
I spent some time today on Bishop Tutu’s website at theforgivenessproject.com. There are many stories on the demanding and dire work of reconciliation. I feel a tremendous burden after reading several of them. One, in particular, really left a mark. It is the story of Matthew Boger and Tim Zaal. Tim was a 17 year old member of a white supremacist skinhead group that had beaten Matthew, a gay teenager, and left him for dead in a West Hollywood alley. As God would have it, they met 26 years later as both were employed by the Museum of Tolerance of all places in L.A. (God is so amazing!). They began the hard work of reconciliation, and reading their comments “hard work” doesn’t come close to doing it justice. They started a program called HATE 2 HOPE and their story is documented in a 2015 film “Facing Fear” that I intend to watch later today.
Reconciliation begins with brutal honesty and self-reflection. Yesterday, Pastor Scott shared this as facing the “unvarnished truth” in his message from God’s question to Adam and Eve of “Where are you?” Interestingly, Bishop Tutu also turned to that story in recounting his work with the TRC and I heard echoes of Scott’s message. Tutu writes, “In the story of Adam and Eve, the Bible reminds us of how easy it is to blame others. When God confronted Adam about eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam was less than forthcoming in accepting responsibility. Instead he shifted the blame to Eve, and when God turned to Eve, she, too, tried to pass the buck to the serpent. (The poor serpent had no one left to blame.) So we should not be surprised at how reluctant most people are to acknowledge their responsibility and to say they are sorry. We are behaving true to our ancestors when we blame everyone and everything except ourselves. It is the everyday heroic act that says, “It’s my fault. I’m sorry.” But without these simple words, forgiveness is much more difficult.
Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking, but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.” It’s tedious work folks, but let’s stay on the path to learn more of what it means to “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). This Sunday we will explore the second question God asks at Creation, “Where is your brother?” (Genesis 4:9).
September 8, 2020
In the third quarter of 2019, I shared with our leadership team that 2020 needed to be a year of vision for Garfield Memorial Church. I felt a leading by the Holy Spirit that it was time for us to look ahead again – 3, 5 and 10 years out. At a fall meeting of our church council, I made the following comment, “I believe that 2020 will usher in the most important decade for the American Church at least since the Civil Rights Movement and possibly since the Great Awakening.” When I made that comment, I did not know that there was a city in China called Wuhan, and I certainly did not know anyone by the names of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor or George Floyd. If 2020 is any indication of the course of this decade, buckle up.
What I did know at that moment was about the continued decline of the American Church at a time when our city, country and world really need to hear the message of the gospel… COVID-19 and the revelation of the continued poison of racism on our shores only further emphasized that truth. In January, we announced that this year would be a year of Vision 2020 for GMUMC. We assembled a Vision 2020 team of 12 diverse and “younger” leaders (the only requirement was that they be younger than me! LOL). This team has been seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance and working with a national consultant through a process called “Church Unique.” This venture involves re-examining our mission, vision and values; and assessing what strategies and measurements we have in place for living those out over this next decade.
Our consultant said that we had the clearest mission, vision and value statement of any church he has worked with. WIDENING THE CIRCLE – (through Core Values of) SAFETY, GROWTH, AUTHENTICITY, DIVERSITY & FORGIVENESS. Still, we have dug deep to reflect on what those words mean and how we continue to live them out as a church of Jesus Christ. After much time in prayer, discussion and reflection and over thirty hours of official “meeting time,” the team came up with a defining sentence of what it means for us to WIDEN THE CIRCLE… it reads, “Connecting diverse people who share a common brokenness, with Jesus.”
In 1 Samuel, we are told that Israel was in a time of peril and a state of disconnect from God. Their condition was summed up in one sentence, “In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1). Yet, God calls Samuel to be his prophet and says to him, “I am about to do something… that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle” (1 Samuel 3:11). I have to say every time I hear that defining sentence – “Connecting diverse people who share a common brokenness, with Jesus” - my ears tingle. Attached, you will find a copy of a working document that the team used called our “Kingdom Concept.” This wasn’t any kind of formal document or draft of a TO DO list. Rather, it was an assessment of who we currently are as a church - a kind of corporate self-assessment. We were called to look at the group that God has assembled at Garfield Memorial Church and describe who we are and what God is calling us to do and be in one phrase and ultimately one word.
We continued to hear the words “reconcile – reconciled – reconciliation” burn in our ears and hearts. As Paul writes to the Church in 2 Corinthians 5:18, “God has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” Starting this Sunday, we are beginning an important teaching series based on the “Signature Scriptures” that serve as the foundation for our attached “Kingdom Concept.” We will begin with the two formative questions that God asks at the beginning of Creation in Genesis and the two questions he continues to ask each of us now. In week three, we will look at God’s glorious vision for his ultimate church, and then in weeks four and five examine instructions on how to live as that church “on earth as it is in heaven” now. I hope that you will make it a priority to be in worship each week for the next five weeks; and to pray and reflect on what it means to be reconciled to God and others and to be an agent of God’s reconciliation in the world. If you have to miss a Sunday, make a commitment to go back and find another hour during that week to worship “on demand” on one of our digital platforms. This is urgent, urgent work and God is counting on us to do it. Listen to the urgency in Paul’s voice, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). See you in worship!
august 17, 2020
Gavin Ortlund is a PhD in Theology from Fuller Seminary in California. He is also a film critic. I think that makes him uniquely qualified to discuss our current teaching series, The Gospel in Film. Here are his thoughts: “In Acts 17, Paul called attention to the Athenians’ worship of an “unknown god” (17:23), Paul claimed that God has determined human lives so that they should perhaps “feel their way toward him” (17:27). In their own way, I see movies depict something of that “feeling their way” struggle. Movies also provide insight into the questions people around us are asking—they are windows into our cultural narratives, into those ways even very secular people are “worshiping an unknown God.” Movies tap into our deepest emotions because they draw on truths and realities that only make sense in light of the gospel, and the questions they ask are only resolved in the gospel. Here are three components of that “feeling their way” process:
1. Good Versus Evil
In almost every film, the fundamental drama is drawn along the lines of good and evil. What creates a story worth telling is usually this:
- good and evil clash
- good struggles and gets beat up for a while
- good defeats evil
Often evil has an institutional advantage—we love Bourne because he is on the run, we hate Warden Samuel Norton in Shawshank Redemption because of his complacent power, and so forth. And often good is an underdog or somehow down on their luck. Think of Rocky Balboa, for instance, or Dr. Richard Kimble—or think how many heroes in Disney films are orphans, or experience the loss of one or both parents along the way.
Sometimes good and evil are cast in terms of a particular motif, like the “light” versus “dark” side in the Stars Wars franchise; sometimes good is orchestrated around one individual (James Bond, Indiana Jones, etc.). There is always a moral dimension to the drama, and therefore a heightened sense of significance. We don’t just want one side to win: we sense one side ought to win. We know it’s right that Simba dethrones Scar, and not simply his good fortune. For me, this is one way movies are searching for the gospel.
2. Happy Endings
Movies aren’t just about good fighting evil; they’re about good defeating evil. Movies are searching, not only for a moral framework, but for an eschatological one. Once again, this is so common we don’t even think about it. But a “happily ever after” is an essential part of every good story. You could summarize most plots in three phases:
- loss of happiness
- restoration to some greater and more permanent happiness
But why is this so common? Does the idea of a “happily ever after” connect to anything in the real world, the Story each of us inhabits? Once again, in a naturalistic worldview the answer is no. The universe will ultimately wind down and run out of energy. But for the Christian, harmony → tension → resolution is the basic paradigm of reality. We call it creation → fall → redemption. If Christianity is true, in other words, the reason the endings of movies make us feel the way they do is because it’s going to happen one day.
3. Suffering and Sacrificial Love
In almost every film, good not only fights against and triumphs over evil, but does so by means of suffering and sacrifice. How lame would a story be if the good guys won easily and without cost? That never happens.
Take Rudy, for instance. That scene where he’s sitting at the park and discovers he gets into Notre Dame. But how lame would it be if Rudy was 6’ 5” with a 140 IQ? It would never make a good movie. The struggle it took him to get there is what makes his story powerful to us: we all sense there is some great meaning, not only to the triumph, but to the struggle it takes to get there.
The motif of sacrifice almost always accompanies that of suffering. How many times have we seen one of the good guys give up their life, or think they’re giving up their life, or give up something else important, in order to save the day? After all, this is the great center of our faith: Jesus, the cross, the empty tomb. It’s what we sing and hear about every Sunday. It’s what we believe will one day renew the universe. And it’s what we believe the whole world is searching for—in our movies, and in our lives.”
Eight people out of hundreds of you guessed Pastor Scott’s favorite movie last week. Keep voting as there are prizes at multiple levels! Here are the current eight stars on Hollywood Boulevard at GMUMC: William Bagi, Frances Blount, Sue Conner, Rodney Decipeda, Gregory Jones, Jason Lucas, Flora Mark and Rita Ross. My top five movies of all time can be found here. I’m preaching on my overall number one this Sunday. Happy guessing!
August 3, 2020
I have been struck by how many times the New Testament writers use the words endurance and perseverance. They tell us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). “To pray at all times and… to that end keep alert with all perseverance” (Ephesians 6:18). We are told to persevere and be “steadfast… in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (2 Thessalonians 1:4). On and on it goes, I could literally fill this page with scriptures dedicated to this subject. To be honest with you, I get tired of the scriptures telling me to hang in there and not get tired.
It was in that light that I read a daily devotional today with a fable about an early European minstrel group traveling from town to town to present their act during a time of great sadness in the land. Times were hard, they were not doing very well, attendance was falling off and discouragement began to seep in. One night in a new town the cast began to murmur about not performing. To make matters worse it had even begun to snow. “Who will venture out on a night like this? It’s not worth it. Last night we only performed for a handful and tonight is sure to be worse. How can we expect to give our best for so few?”
At that point the elder statesperson of the group spoke up, “I know you are discouraged, I am too. But we have a responsibility to those who might come. It is not the fault of those who come that others do not. They should not receive less than the best we can give. It is our responsibility to go on.” Encouraged by these words, the cast presented one of their most energetic and uplifting performances of the year. When the show was over and the small audience disbanded, a note was given to the cast. It simply read, “Thank you for such a beautiful performance…. Sincerely, Your King.”
This coming Sunday we will conclude our four part teaching series “Planted.” (For the first 3 messages in the series click here). We will have examined the four most influential Inputs of Faith that produce the greatest Output of Discipleship. There is no way that we can that we can simply “muster up the courage” to be effective followers of Christ without planting these four spiritual disciplines deep within us. Jesus said “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener… Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:1, 3). Pray, plant and water the seeds of these four Inputs… It will greatly affect your performance before your King.
July 26, 2020
So, I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Talking to Strangers. I do not like to recommend books until I am finished reading them and I am only about a third of the way through; but so far it is compelling. Gladwell takes the fateful encounter between two strangers, Sandra Bland and her arresting officer, as a teaching parable of our inability to talk and listen and grow and live with “strangers.” My friend and national church leader, Mark DeYmaz has posed that the most crucial question facing America and the American Church is answering the question that Jesus was asked, “And who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:29).
Gladwell looks back at the infamous meeting between the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and the Aztec ruler Montezuma II that occurred five hundred years ago. Two leaders of people who were absolute strangers in every sense of the word. The only way they could even communicate was through a four person chain of translators that was sketchy at best. In the palace, Montezuma gave a speech where Cortes understood him saying that Cortes was a deity returned to take possession of the land. He heard Montezuma, in effect, “surrendering” to the Spanish. Yet scholars of the Nahuatl language and culture note its “reverential mode” and that in truth, Montezuma was humbly requesting that the Spanish surrender!
You may remember what followed from history books, Montezuma was taken hostage and murdered and the two sides went to war. Twenty million Aztecs were killed either directly in the war or indirectly from the diseases the Spanish brought with them. This tragedy and the catastrophic colonial expansion that followed ushered in what Gladwell calls a “distinctly modern pattern of … interaction.” He writes, “Today, we are now thrown into contact all the time with people whose assumptions, perspectives, and backgrounds are different from our own….. (The modern world) is Cortes and Montezuma struggling to understand each other through multiple layers of translators.” That is so sad and yet so true.
You would think that Christians would be at the forefront of healthy and wholesome dialogue, welcome and interaction with strangers. The Old Testament law is filled with commandments to receive and keep safe “aliens, refuges, immigrants, and strangers.” The book of Hebrews demands that we “not neglect hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2). Jesus warned that we will ultimately be judged partly by our ability or inability to welcome strangers; and cautioned hearers to understand that “the least of these” are the masks that God wears! (Matthew 25:31-46). Paul admonishes us to “regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit cared so much about this that he made sure that all could hear, “each in their native language” (Acts 2:11). You would think we would get it, right?
Yet, the Church remains the most ethnically segregated institution in America, a “Christian” University recently revoked admission to an ICU nurse after finding out that he is gay, and denominations, churches and local church members continue to wrestle, as the “Bible scholar” did in the Luke 10 parable, with the question, “And who is my neighbor?” This is part of the unique mission of Garfield Memorial Church “for such a times as this” (Esther 4:14). Your Vision 2020 team is consulting, praying, working on and hearing from God a clear calling to the unique ministry of “reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). In a large and diverse church we are able to listen, learn from and talk to “strangers.” We provide multiple opportunities through Multiethnic Conversations, Ministry by Strengths and Temperaments, for example, to listen, appreciate, empathize and engage with people different from ourselves.
A wise coach once told me that “Your way is only A way, it is never THE way.” We serve the only One who ever had the right to say “I am the Way… and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6) and let us never forget that “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself…” (Philippians 2:6-8). Let us never forget that on the last night of his earthly life, this One who declared that he did not come to be served but to serve, took off his outer garments and washed his disciples dirty feet. Right in the middle of their arguing over who was the greatest, Peter the denier, Thomas the doubter, James and John the lobbyists, and Judas the betrayer… he washed their feet… all of their feet. After this, he sat down on his last earthly seat before ascending to the throne of heaven and said, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
If you are not sure that you are ready to graduate to the whole “washing stranger’s feet” yet… try at least talking with them, listening to them and receiving them with Christ’s great love. In my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage there is a saying that “There are no such thing as strangers, only friends we have not met yet.” May it always be so at Garfield Memorial Church as it is forever so in the Kingdom of God.
july 20, 2020
In my days of being a District Superintendent in the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church, our conference was divided into 12 geographic districts with each superintendent overseeing roughly 60-80 churches directly. As “conference superintendents,” all twelve of us gathered four to five days a month to collectively as the bishop’s cabinet oversee the work of all of our local churches – 880 at the time (now I believe there are roughly 720). As the youngest superintendent ever appointed at that time in our conference’s history, I was the ‘baby brother’… the boat rocker… in the words of the late great John Lewis, I hope I was a “good trouble”-maker. In my fourth year of what would be a six and a half year term, an older, seasoned, well known pastor was appointed to the cabinet. He and his family name were well known throughout our conference’s history. In my prejudicial mind, I was sure he represented “the good old boy” system that I tended to agitate and I was certain we would bump heads. Instead, we became great friends and enjoyed an incredible collegial working relationship.
We did not always see things the same way, but he had a heart of gold and we shared a deep and mutual respect. That’s why he had my complete attention when one day at a cabinet meeting, he lamented that “The spiritual depth of our churches can be defined as ‘I believe in God and I’m glad I’m an American’ and that’s about it.” Here was a man steeped in the history and heritage of the Methodist Church and grieving its lack of spiritual maturity and true discipleship. No one countered his assessment that day.
One of our Core Values at GMUMC is Growth. Often when we hear that we think of numerical growth, which we have experienced over the last 15 years. Of course that is part of it as we widen the circle; and we know that numbers aren’t “numbers,” they are people. We certainly want to connect more and more people to the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Yet, equally important is spiritual growth. Are you and I becoming more and more like Jesus in our walk with him? It is deficient discipleship to have your faith journey a mile wide and an inch deep.
In our current teaching series, Planted, we are looking at the four inputs into our faith life that will yield the greatest output in growing our discipleship. Yesterday, we looked at Input #1 – Regular Worship. Making regular worship a part of your everyday life. We gave a definition of what worship truly is, and why we desperately need it. If you missed the message, I hope you will go and listen to it on-demand on our Website, YouTube or FB Page. I doubt it is the definition of worship that most regularly comes to your mind. In our Spiritual PPE series, we discussed the devil’s intention to divide. Looking at our country right now, he has certainly gained ground in these efforts. The enemy also wants to divide you personally from God. Peter warns that “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If you have watched NatGeo or Animal Planet, you know that lions succeed when they can isolate their prey.
One of the enemy’s tactics is to pull us away from the discipline of regular worship. Cotton Mather was an early New England Puritan preacher. He once visited a wealthy merchant who shared that his life had simply become too busy with work to pause and worship regularly. Cotton Mather grabbed some tongs and pulled a coal out from the fire and set it on the bricks beside the man. They both watched as the fire and heat went out, and the man was in Sunday worship the following day. Following the discipleship research done by LifeWay that we are using as the basis for this series, here is what is in their extensive report: “Do you view your worship service as part of your discipleship process… or do you see it more as a ritual, and relegate discipleship to small group(s)? Here’s the bottom line: The research clearly shows that worship services matter and that the maturity level of a disciple is greatly influenced by the frequency that you attend worship services” (No Silver Bullets – From Input to Output, p. 67).
The current pandemic can be used by both God and the devil to enhance or diminish our practice of regular worship. We can either grow in our practice of worship as we bring it intimately into our homes and our family life each and every week online, or by driving out to a drive-in service, or by being one of a group of up to 75 assisting our worship team in lifting worship to hundreds of others online. It can become that intense, intentional and disciplined (which is the root word for discipleship). Or, we can succumb to internet fatigue, stubbornly falling backwards because it’s just different and let the red hot coal begin to cool bit by bit. Each week that we reflect on each of these crucial Four Discipleship Inputs, my prayer is Jesus’ prayer at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, “That you would hear these words of mine and put them into practice” (Matthew 7:24).
july 13, 2020
Yesterday, we held out first ever Drive-In Service at 9:00 AM in the Pepper Pike north parking lot. We had great attendance and it was wonderful to see friendly faces and hear the “Amen honks.” Our Heritage worship leaders, Craig McGaughey and Maribeth Katt are arranging music along with resident artist Diane Ferri. We had a wonderful solo Sunday from Michael Hives, a talented young adult. All of our Online Worship Experiences will be continuing through the end of the year, including our 9:00 AM Online Heritage Service. The Drive-In Service is currently a great way to see friendly faces near sacred space.
We had hoped to begin to test drive In-Person Worship Options at our 10:00 AM Mosaic Service on Sunday as well. We have been partnering and having regular weekly consultations with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health (CCBH), and with the recent spikes of COVID-19 in Cuyahoga County their advice was to hold off; especially immediately following a holiday weekend. We have tentatively re-set our first invitation for up to 75 to join us at 10:00 AM and help us present worship to our larger audience online to Sunday, July 26th. You may pre-register now here, but please be nimble with us as we continue to monitor and be advised by the CCBH.
This coming Sunday, we will begin a new four part teaching series entitled “Planted.” As I shared in my message on Sunday, we are in a season of preparation at GMUMC - preparing for the ministry and witness that God is calling us to in this tumultuous time. We will be sharing with you four crucial INPUTS that produce the greatest OUTPUT in discipleship. LifeWay Christian Resource Center (lifeway.com) did an exhaustive study a few years ago led in part by our friend Daniel Im (Daniel talks extensively about Input and Output Goals in his book, No Silver Bullets). Daniel cites the 70:20:10 principle which was first written about by Dr. Allen Tough. The principle states that 70% of our learning comes by doing; you have heard this called “on-the-job training.” 20% comes from interaction, through coaching and mentoring; and only 10% through listening, “conferences, seminars, courses.”
Daniel contends that churches tend to place 70% of their emphasis on teaching, which my father would say is “bassackwards.” What are the things we should be doing in growing our faith as disciples of Jesus Christ? When this research was done there are several things that came up, but the first four were so clear that they distanced themselves from number five by millions of miles. I hope you will make a commitment to be in worship the next four Sundays (if you have to miss a Sunday, please carve out another time to spend an hour in worship that week and use our On Demand features on YouTube, Boxcast or Facebook). Please don’t just commit to “listening to the teaching” (the 10% learning produce); but rather, commit to putting it into action by “doing” (the 70% learning produce).
As a basketball junkie, I have read and listened to everything that John Wooden has ever said or written (I consider him the greatest basketball coach of all time, and he is also a devout follower of Christ). He once wrote: “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur… Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.” Jesus said it this way, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven… Everyone then who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice will be like a wise person who built their house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock” (Matthew 7:21, 24). Come the next four weeks and get “planted” on the Rock.
June 22, 2020
In this season of COVID-19, I am learning a lot about worship. Maybe I knew some of this inherently, but now it is more fully in my mind.
- Worship is not confined to a certain day or time. There is a call to “Honor (remember) the Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Yet, the exact day is not uniquely set in stone. For early Jewish worshippers (and many today), the Sabbath day was at the end of the week on what we call Saturday. Yet, when Jesus rose on the “first day of the week” (John 20:1), or what we call Sunday, that became the Sabbath day for Christians. And what about those who are forced to work on Sunday in a secular world? Can they carve out an off-day as their Sabbath day to be mindful of the Lord, and keep it sacred and rich in meaning?
When Jesus told religious leaders, “You were not created for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was created for you” (Mark 2:27), I believe that he was saying that God did not make us minions to assemble before the pyramids at a scheduled day and time to bow down and pay homage. Rather, that we were made in the image of God to be in a worshipful relationship with our Creator and we need Sabbath time with him to find wholeness in our lives. I love my routine of beginning my week in worship on Sunday morning with all of you, but I also enjoy private times of worship and times of worship with my wife at different and sometimes spontaneous times throughout the week.
- Worship is not limited to a certain place. There definitely is sacred space. Many times throughout the Bible, when something foundational or transformational happened, people built an altar or a memorial with stones, etc. God called for the building of the temple in Jerusalem and honored that space as a place to dwell with his people in times of corporate worship. Yet, “space and place worship” can become idolatrous. When Babylon destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 586 BC and took many of the people into exile in a foreign land, despair overwhelmed the people. Listen to this lament in Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon -there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps… How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” The temple was the place where they experienced “the glory of the Lord.” Therefore, in their minds, no temple… no glory of the Lord. Yet, Ezekiel is the prophet sent to them and he sees a vision of the “temple,” the “glory of the Lord,” and it is on wheels moving wherever the Spirit led!
Two of the earliest Christian preachers, Stephen and Paul, publically declared that “God does not dwell in houses made with human hands” to people too attached to religious temples (Acts 7:48; 17:24). I may have understood that in my head, but COVID-19 has revealed how much “building bias” was in my heart. I am repenting from the many years I have said, “One Church in Three Locations.” I feel like the Holy Spirit has been chuckling when he has heard me say that and has mused, “Only three?” The best words ever spoken on this truth were by Jesus himself in his loving encounter with the “woman at the well” in John 4.In this counseling session, Jesus blows apart all cultural and religious prejudices and stereotypes – stereotypes that had actually victimized her personally for years. Toward the end of their dialogue, she brings up religion.Jews and Samaritans were not simply ethnic enemies, they were also religious enemies - represented in part by “where” they gathered for worship. She says to Jesus, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him” (John 4:20-23). COVID-19 may have moved us away from “mountains and temples” for a period of time, but it may just have moved us closer to the real worship that Jesus has been desiring for us all along. Worship that can happen anywhere and at any time and in any place in Spirit and in truth.
I am so grateful for our corporate worship together that has been taking place weekly online in “The-Lord-only-knows how many locations.” Our 9:00 AM Heritage service and all of our Mosaic services will continue to be offered weekly online. For those of you wishing to gather in general proximity to others, see friendly faces and connect to sacred space, we will begin to add some limited and safe in-person options beginning July 12, 2020 (you received details on this in an earlier eNote). We will offer a 9:00 AM drive-in service open to any and all in our North Parking Lot. We are testing to see if there is an audience for this service. An order of worship and words for prayers and songs will be attached to eNotes the Monday prior each week. Participants will remain in their vehicles and can keep vehicles running with a/c if desired (sound will be broadcast into your vehicle on your radio).
We will also open our 10:00 AM Mosaic service for 75 people properly socially distanced to assist us in lifting our Online Broadcast.Pre-registration for July 12, July 19 and July 26 is now open and you can register here. PLEASE BE SURE TO READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS AND RESTRICTIONS BEFORE REGISTERING FOR THESE SERVICES.Wait lists will be generated, and our goal is to offer a second in-person option at 11:30 AM in August.
Let us continue to “Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Tell of his salvation from day to day” (1 Chronicles 16:23).
june 8, 2020
There is a big difference between “Circling the Wagons” and “Widening the Circle.” I am so grateful that all of us at Garfield Memorial Church chose to continue to do the latter, even during the outbreak of COVID-19. Our Online Worship services will continue to be our most prominent and safest way to experience worship. We are so thankful that so many of you are attending regularly and responding so affirmatively! For those of you wishing to gather in general proximity to others and connect to sacred space, we will begin to offer some options for in-person worship with a target date of Sunday, July 12, 2020.
Our Board of Trustees and executive staff have already been assessing and creating an action plan for building readiness to re-open. They are meeting on June 9, 2020 to continue this work.
Our goal is to open our 10:00 AM live broadcast at Pepper Pike on Sunday, July 12, 2020 to 75-100 members and friends to assist us in lifting up worship on Sunday to our larger audience online, and most importantly to God. This will allow us to “test-drive” new safety measures ahead of larger gatherings and get feedback. Attendees must pre-register and arrive early to be seated with appropriate social distancing and be prepared for our worship to go live (more information on registration will be forthcoming). We ask that you wear face coverings unless medically detrimental; and the church will have a stock of disposable, lightweight and comfortable face coverings available each week. You may bring your own coffee and/or water. None will be served at our facility. We encourage online giving to continue, but will have a collection area available by the exits.
The following individuals should NOT register nor plan to attend in-person worship:
- All who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, i.e., older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions
- All who have respiratory illnesses associated with the common cold or the flu;
- Any who have symptoms similar to COVID-19 (fever, cough, and difficulty breathing); or have recently been exposed to anyone with COVID-19
There will be no Kidz Space children’s ministry offered at this time. Children may attend worship with you as you register your family; we would only ask that you keep children with you and not have them wander beyond social distancing boundaries. We will not congregate for fellowship in our facility before or after worship, but would ask that you fellowship outside with appropriate social distancing. Our goal is to offer a second live broadcast service at 11:30 AM as of Sunday, August 2nd with a similar pre-registered in-person attendance. We also hope to offer a live watch party at our South Euclid location at 10:00 AM as of that date. We are exploring an in-person pre-registered option for Worship on Wednesdays as well.
On July 12th, our goal is to also offer a 9:00 AM Drive-In service at our Pepper Pike facility in our North Parking Lot. This service would be broadcast via FM in your vehicles with singing, prayers and message in an abbreviated format. Orders of worship for that service would be mass emailed each week for you to print off or follow along on phones or devices. This will be another option for those of you wishing to gather in general proximity to others and connect to sacred space. All of our current Online Worship Options will continue to be offered including our 9:00 AM Heritage Service.
Please know that your church leadership has spent and continue to spend many hours in prayer, several of us have fasted, seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I feel we have heard a clear directive to be “wise as serpents and tender as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We have also stayed in direct consultation with our Cuyahoga County Board of Health. We miss the hugs and the in-person fellowship greatly. As our consultant at the Board of Health rightly stated, everything that we yearn for in a church, to congregate, be in close proximity, sing side-by-side, etc., is exactly what this virus exploits. It is evil and insidious but it will not prevail. We have been so humbled and in awe of God’s guidance and protection in helping our church to pivot so effectively in these “new wineskin” days. We are trusting God and looking forward to seeing and connecting with you in oh so many ways soon.
may 11, 2020
Back in the days of the circus, live animal shows were a big draw. We have come to better understand the cruelty toward animals in some of these events, and are glad that much of that is ancient history. In those days, one of the prime events were “tiger trainers.” Some of you will remember the images of a trainer with a chair in one hand and a whip in the other taming the “mighty beasts.” Years ago, during a well-known television circus show performed before a large live audience, a tiger trainer went into a cage with Bengal tigers to perform his act. The cage door was locked behind him. In the middle of the performance, however, the worst possible fate befell the act… the lights went out! For twenty or thirty long dark seconds the trainer was locked in the cage with the tigers. In the darkness they could see him but he could not see them. A whip and a small kitchen chair seemed meager protection under the circumstances, but he survived. When the lights came back on, he calmly finished the performance. In an interview afterward, he was asked how he felt knowing that the tigers could see him but he could not see them. He first admitted the chilling fear of the situation, but said, “I just kept cracking my whip and talking to them until the lights came on.”
I think all of us can relate to that story right now. We are “in the dark.” One of the insidious conditions of this current crisis is that we just don’t know. We listen to the science, we lean in to credible sources, we pray for direction from the Holy Spirit, and yet in our heart of hearts, we feel like we are in the dark. We sense that there is a danger around us that can see us but we can’t see it. So what do we do? We trust God and we keep cracking our whip.
Yesterday on Mother’s Day, the kids all wanted to come over to the house and celebrate with Mom. As much as we wanted that to happen, we just were not sure if that was the safe or smart thing to do. So, we cracked our whip and pivoted to inventing Zoom games for one of the most hilarious family game nights in recent Freed history. We will not long forget Mother’s Day 2020, and I am sure it will go down in family folklore. At Garfield Memorial Church, we have kept cracking our whip. We continue to worship God weekly with all of our “heart, soul, strength and mind” (Matthew 22:37). We gather for devotions in our Zoom small groups and weekly Bible Studies, in Monday Musings, in Worship on Wednesdays and Faith on Fridays. We join in weekly prayer calls with House of Prayer on Monday evenings. We call our “phone buddies” seeing how we might connect and serve them. We keep 90 some families fed monthly through our food pantries. We deliver yard signs of hope and pray over every home we visit. Our Vision 2020 team begins their year long faithful work this weekend, seeking God’s guidance as we begin to intensely dream what next steps God may have for us to Widen the Circle through Garfield Memorial Church for the next 3-10 years.
Since Easter, I have not been able to leave the side of Mary Magdalene. Her testimony and her resiliency continue to minister to me. “Early in the morning while it was still dark…” not sure what she would find, certainly not expecting a resurrection “… Mary went to the tomb” (John 20:1). I guess you could say even in the midst of her intense grief and lack of complete understanding, she “kept cracking her whip.” Friends, Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. His promise is sure “I am with you always even to the end to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). There is an old gospel song that has kept ringing in my ears since the beginning of the pandemic that says, “Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand; but I know who holds tomorrow, he’s the one who holds my hand.” Jesus says, “I will be with you until the lights come on.” So, trust God and keep cracking your whip.
april 27, 2020
So many times, we cry out to God for a “sign.” I remember when I was planning on leaving the corporate arena where I was serving as a C.E.O. to go into full-time vocational ministry. So many people thought that I was crazy that I began to question myself. I demanded that God give me a sign! I’m a little ashamed to tell you this, but I literally drove to some wooded property that I owned, walked into the woods and climbed a tree. I sat up there and told God that “I’m not coming down until you give me a clear sign that this is what I am supposed to do.” Do you know how uncomfortable tree branches can be to sit on after an hour?
I climbed down defeated, but as I walked to my truck, the thought of how many “signs” God had already given me overwhelmed me. The two pastors that God had most recently brought into my life that were guiding stars for me. My amazing wife who was not clinging to some “standard of living” but felt that God had called us to serve and called me to preach. The revival service and altar call (my first ever!) where I felt that I heard God say, “It’s time.” I sheepishly realized that I had been sitting up in a tree asking God to give me something that he had already been pouring into me over the last year.
I’m not sure where you are “sitting” right now. Maybe you are looking for some signs from God that this will all be over soon and that everything will return to “normal” (whatever that is). If you find yourself looking for signs, I recommend looking back over your shoulder to all of the things God has shown you and shared with you over the years. Like me, possibly what you are looking for, God has already revealed to you? Think about it.
Also, the good news is that you will be getting a “sign” soon. Our church has purchased hundreds of yard signs that say “Praying for Our City.” As our state considers the gradual stages of reopening, we want Greater Cleveland to know that we are praying for all. If you are listed on our roster of members & regular attenders, we have a team assembling on Saturday to come by your home, pray for you and place a sign in your yard (we cannot do apartment complexes or group living facilities). If you would prefer to not receive a sign, just reply to this email, we totally understand. If you are concerned that you might not be on our membership rolls, please reply and give us your address.
Here is the bonus… if you catch us “signing” your yard, take a picture, post to social media with the hashtag #Thankful4Garfield, and you will receive a $5.00 gift card. If you catch me or Pastor Scott in the act, you get a $10 gift card. It’s “Where’s Waldo” GMUMC style (hey, we all need a little entertainment). This will be a “sign” that we are thinking about you, praying for you; and that we collectively are Praying for Our City!
April 20, 2020
“Now what?” There is a great moment at Pentecost where people asked this very question. You can find it in Acts 2:37-41. The Holy Spirit has fallen, the apostles hit the streets preaching in a way that everyone could hear, Peter delivers an intense sermon that cut people’s hearts, and then the crowds responded… “Now what?” “What must we do?” Peter answered succinctly, “Repent and be baptized.” You have probably heard me say a million times that the word “repent” in Greek literally means “to turn.” Turn your life, your desires, your hopes and dreams, all that you are, toward God. The word “righteousness” in Greek literally means to be in “right alignment.” So to repent means to turn and get back into right alignment with our Creator… an alignment that was fractured when we decided to be our own Savior and Lord.
Then, “be baptized” as an outward and public expression of this inward decision. Luke tells us in Acts 2, that 3000 people did just that on the spot. I have always said that I wanted to be at that baptism service! Yesterday, the thought dawned on me that maybe I just did. Pastor Steve preached an amazing message yesterday on Baptism Sunday. We invited people to have a bowl of water nearby for the end of service. After the message, Pastor Steve invited us to take water from our bowls, cups or basins and put the water to our head as a sign of our baptism (I did so on screen). As the water rolled down my face, I looked into the camera and wondered how many others were doing that too. We have had thousands of people tuning in each week at our multiple services. Could 3000 people have put their hands in the water to “remember their baptism and be thankful” or with the water’s help made a proclamation to be baptized at our next Baptism Sunday together? We’ll never know, but just the thought that it could have happened brings me great joy. (You can let us know you'd like to be baptized/reaffirm your baptism at our Baptism Sunday when we are back worshiping together at our facilities by using this link.)
We are beginning a new teaching series this week entitled “Spiritual PPE.” Not many of us had PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in our daily vernacular, but now we hear this term multiple times daily. For Health Care workers on the front lines, this equipment is literally a matter of life and death. I am praying for them even as I type these words. We are asking what is our “Spiritual PPE?” Paul says that there are things we should “put on” to protect us from the “wiles of the devil.” We are going to spend several weeks exploring and teaching from Ephesians 6:10-20. All of our pastors will be jumping into this series. We believe that this is crucial instructions for “such a time as this.” By the end of this series, I think we will all have memorized Ephesians 6:10-20! In a Zoom Room following today’s Monday Musings, Pastor Steve said that sometimes a message is so clear that “if you didn’t get it, you didn’t want it.” We are going to try and give as clear instructions as possible on how to “put on the whole armor of God” …Your Spiritual PPE. “See” you at Wednesday Worship, Faith on Friday and Sunday Worship.
april 13, 2020
Yesterday was an Easter I will not soon forget. We always need the message of Easter, but maybe this year, just a little bit more. At 4:00 PM on Easter Sunday, our extended family gathered on Zoom. This was the first Easter that the Freed tribe – siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews – were not physically together. It was so amazing. We laughed, we sang songs, Matt Freed led us in worship and we sang “Happy Birthday” to my 30 year old niece. Then, it happened. My nephew Will Freed-Pastor is a physician at Boston Mass General Hospital in their cancer research lab. Because of the high number of health care workers there who have been stricken by COVID-19, he was pulled out of the lab and put back into the rotation. In the midst of our call, Will went into a closet at the hospital to come into our Zoom room for a minute to “be with the family” in his full PPE gear.
Suddenly, we all felt like we were at Ground Zero. It literally took my breath away. In some ways, the message of Easter turned that story upside down. The disciples were all at Ground Zero, suffering from pain, anguish, and grief, when suddenly Jesus appeared among them. John tells it this way, “Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:26). That’s Easter. Wherever you are today, behind whatever doors, in whatever condition, Jesus comes and says, “Peace be with you.” I hope you hear that today!
This coming Sunday is Baptism Sunday. For the last ten years, we have always celebrated Baptism Sunday on the Sunday after Easter. We will hold a live Easter service and Baptism Sunday service in the future, but this Sunday, we will celebrate Baptism Sunday online. Join us as Pastor Steve Furr will remind us to “remember our baptism and be thankful.” Have a bowl of water near you for worship this Sunday as we will remember the “water of life” and give God praise. I look forward to “seeing” you then!
march 23, 2020
Blaise Pascal was a 17th century philosopher who Albert Einstein called the greatest mind in modern history. He once wrote that “all of humanity’s problems stem from people’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” If that’s true, then what we could not do for ourselves, COVID-19 did for us! Your church does not want you to feel alone. First and foremost our God is “Emmanuel” which means “God with us.” Spend time talking with God while you have some down time.
Also, your pastors and staff want to stay in touch. On Mondays, we currently have “Monday Musings” at 7:00 AM and Noon via the church’s Facebook page and Facebook Live. Short devotions to start your week. facebook.com/garfieldchurch. Monday evenings at 7:00 PM, House of Prayer has moved to a call in at 605-313-5430, enter access code 811970.
On Wednesdays, our Mosaic worship team will provide a short “Worship on Wednesday” at 7:00 PM on Facebook Live. On Fridays, we have a “Faith on Friday” Zoom chat at Noon and 5:00 PM at https://bit.ly/GarfieldFaithFridays. Just click here or copy the link into your browser.
After a seamless Online Worship the previous Sunday, yesterday’s service had many glitches for some of you. The truth is that this happened most everywhere! Some of the largest internet platforms for worship literally got overrun yesterday as people around the world were turning to Online Worship. Something about that gives me great hope. Our tech team is meeting via Zoom later today and consulting with various companies in several states, to make sure we can provide quality worship each week. We will also be re-broadcasting our worship at multiple times for you to tune in. Currently we are scheduled for 10:00 & 11:30 AM on Sundays. Stay tuned… literally.
Back during the days of rampant fear over nuclear war, the picture of a daisy growing up through the cracks of concrete went “viral” (way before we ever used that term). It kind of became a worldwide symbol of hope. I have seen and heard several “daisies growing up through concrete” the last couple weeks. It was reported to me that at a Sam’s Club this past weekend, a much frazzled elderly couple got to the cashier who asked “Did you find everything you need?” The couple said that they were unable to find any bread as the shelves were bare. Behind them a 25 year old young man said “Ma’am, you can have my bread, and if there is anything else in my cart you need, you may have that too.” This morning my wife received an email from one of our “phone buddies” checking on our higher risk members at home. It said, “I signed up to help someone else, but after one phone call, it is apparent that God put (name of the person that they were assigned to call) in my life to help me!” (If you are interested in being a phone buddy or receiving a weekly call from a phone buddy – email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Look for signs of God’s presence. Here is the verse that I was led to share in today’s noon time “Monday Musings,” “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5).
march 16th, 2020
The outbreak of COVID-19 in our world has certainly ushered in a time of great uncertainty. We are blessed to have several medical professionals as part of our congregation. I have consulted with some of them as I trust that their knowledge and understanding far surpasses my own on this subject. The medical professionals that I have spoken with advised me early on, that this situation will remain “fluid” as there are so many unknowns.
We have set up a link on our website to offer current information on the church’s response to COVID-19. This will update regularly. Here is the link to that page: https://garfieldchurch.org/covid19-updates
As of this past Sunday, we suspended all live worship services and moved all of our Sunday morning worship to our Online Platform. It is easy to worship with us online by going to our website and clicking our Worship tab and then choosing Online Worship in the drop down menu; or you can just use this link:
Our Tech Team estimated that we had upwards to 2000 worshiping with us this past Sunday at 10:00 AM & 11:15 AM! Some worshiped on phones, tablets and laptops – others streamed services for multiple people on large smart TV’s. We are gathering information to share with you how to do that. We will be making a slight change to our worship times starting this week to 10:00 AM and 11:30 AM. This will enable our Tech Team to utilize a little extra time to make the transition to our second online worship service.
We need all of our members and regular attenders to please stay current with your weekly or monthly giving. If this does not happen, the results could be devastating to our 2020 Budget. We highly encourage you to take advantage of our online giving and set up regular giving automatically. If you need assistance with that, please call our business office at 216-831-1566; or email us at email@example.com. Otherwise, you can mail in your offering by check to the church office (3650 Lander Rd., Pepper Pike OH 44124). You can use this link to give securely online; there is also information about how to give via the Shelby Giving App & via text.
Currently our church office remains open Monday – Friday at Pepper Pike, although we are practicing and encouraging social distancing. Our facility team is diligent in cleaning and sanitizing common space at our facilities as well. We do not want to gather currently in groups of 50 or more, and we are asking our small group leaders to make their best decisions on their group’s meetings. Groups can also meet via Zoom (video platform), and we can help you with that also. Our pastors are consulting on how to offer mid-week devotional time online and possible other regular noon or evening Zoom groups.
I know these are uncertain times, but one thing that is certain is God’s love for us. Romans 5:8 says that “God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We do not fully understand or comprehend the reason for a global pandemic; but the cross of Jesus Christ screams that one reason that it can NOT be is that God doesn’t care for us or is removed from us. We are praying for each and every one of you during this time. Please let us know if there are specific ways that we can help. We have folks standing by ready to do just that. As one rabbi shared last week, “For all the hands we are not shaking right now, let us turn those into calls and texts and notes of comfort and care.” The words of the following hymn gave me great comfort today, I share them with you:
Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
february 24th, 2020
This Wednesday is known as Ash Wednesday and begins the season of Lent. Lent is an early church practice of spiritual preparation for Easter. The following is a brief description of Lent:
“Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (Saturday, April 11th). Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, meaning “lengthen” and refers to the lengthening days of spring. The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by new converts and then became a time of penance by all Christians. Today, Christians focus on relationship with God, growing as disciples and extending ourselves, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of ourselves for others.
Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a "mini-Easter" and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection.” (umc.org)
Here are some steps that we invite you to commit to for these forty days:
- Join us at our Ash Wednesday Service at 7:00 PM in our Pepper Pike sanctuary. This will be our last message in our “From Vision to Values” teaching series. Pastor Lori Stubbs will be preaching on our Core Value of Forgiveness. There will be an opportunity for you to receive ashes or oil; and also to take something or someone that you need to forgive or something that you need forgiveness for, and literally turn it into “ashes” that night.
- Join with other members & friends of GMUMC for a daily interactive online devotional with our Online Pastor Curt Bissell. Use this link to sign up to our Devotions for Lent from Holy Bible: Mosaic). Ground each day in scripture and share thoughts with other friends online each week.
- Make a commitment to be in worship EVERY week of Lent and Easter for 7 straight Sundays. If you are traveling, sick or out of town, join us online (you can join us either via garfieldchurchonline.org or Facebook live. You can also always watch or rewatch past messages from our 10:00 Mosaic service in Pepper Pike via our website at garfieldchurch.org/media). Let your friends and networks know that you have made this commitment and invite for them to join you along the way some Sunday, either live or online.
- Specifically think of one or more friends, family or acquaintances in your “village” who are not part of a regular church family. Write their names down now and begin to pray for them that they might be open to come to worship with you on Easter Sunday. Pray for how you might invite them in a loving and non-threatening way. Then, invite; but please pray first. Prayer opens doors in amazing ways. If you have someone come with you on Easter, please email me their name and address, and I will follow up with a hand written note of welcome.
Four Things for these Forty Days to grow and prepare to experience Easter in a whole new and meaningful way this year!
february 10, 2020
Most of us have probably been following the news of the outbreak of the Coronavirus. I was talking to a church member yesterday and we commented on how we had never even heard of Wuhan, China before; and it is a city with a population much larger than New York City! The World Health Organization is taking this virus very seriously and admit it is so new and so unknown.
What is striking is the fear that it is generating. While it is an escalating epidemic that has taken 910 lives out of the over 40,000 cases, the W.H.O. is quick to point out that its death rates are on par with the flu at a bit under 3%. One senior advisor stated that “the Coronavirus currently kills hundreds while the seasonal flu kills hundreds of thousands.”
Much attention has been given to the cruise ship “Diamond Princess” that has been quarantined off of the coast of Japan. 135 individuals have been confirmed as infected with this virus currently. One American citizen who has been confirmed to be infected and is currently under quarantine in a Japanese hospital is a woman named Rebecca Frazier. Rebecca talked by phone with American media and shared that she is not even being treated currently and actually felt a lot worse when she had a recent cold. Her husband Kent has not been infected and is still on the ship, even though they were in close proximity to one another for days. What was most disheartening for me to hear was that since this diagnosis Rebecca and Kent have been subject to online trolling and abuse. Both called people’s fears irrational and stated that they have received threatening messages to “not come home.” Rebecca sighed and said, “People can really be nasty.”
I could not help but contrast this with the attitude and actions of Christians in the Early Church during the outbreak of massive plagues. These were truly pandemics! Scholars guess that somewhere between 25-30% of Roman cities perished during these outbreaks. Dionysius, the early bishop of Alexandria reported that two-thirds of the population of that great city died during a plague epidemic. Pagan Roman citizens fled the cities during these plagues. Many of them casting out even family members and leaving them there to die. Christians, however, stayed behind to care for the sick. In many cases literally risking their lives or giving their lives to tend to those who were actually persecuting them. Rodney Stark, in his book, “The Rise of Christianity,” records that it was one of the pivotal moments in the growth of the Church and the spread of Christianity throughout the empire. Scientists later explained that even simple care like a blanket and food and water increased survival rates in that time over ten fold.
What a testimony and legacy from our ancient ancestors of faith on how to conduct ourselves in times like these. Whether we encounter the fear generated by an unknown virus, or fears being stoked by national leaders with the intention of creating even more political, racial and class divisions, followers of Jesus Christ are called to “stay behind” and work for the kingdom of God – the true and only eternal kingdom. Viruses, plagues and empires come and go… history has taught us that. The reign of our Lord goes on forever. When fears rise, even within ourselves, take a lesson from our spiritual fathers and mothers and “stay behind” and work for the building up of love, justice, kindness and peace.
january 21, 2020
This past Sunday we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, as we have the past 15 years at Garfield. Oneya Fennell Okuwobi was our preacher at all services (if you missed Oneya's message, or want to see it again, you can click here or look for it on the Garfield Memorial Church podcast). The founders of the movement to celebrate Dr. King by observing a national holiday on the 3rd Monday of January always said we should seek to honor Dr. King's selfless and sacrificial service to others by observing the "holiday" as a day "on," not a day "off."
This month we have been inviting you to take a "test drive" of a new volunteer role by going to garfieldchurch.org/testdrive and letting us know a volunteer role/ministry you'd like to try out to see if it's a good fit for you. (If you're not sure, you can select "Help me find a team to try out!" on the online or paper form.)
We set a big goal- we are looking for 200 people to "test drive" a new volunteer role from all our services! If you haven't let us know you want to be "one of the 200" yet please do so.
Won't you consider being part of the 200 and finding a way to serve all year long?
“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?”--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
january 13, 2020
This past weekend, Terri and I drove north of the border to reset our batteries for what is sure to be an incredibly busy and eventful 2020. As an ex-athlete, I love sports movies, even if they can be kind of corny at times. Call it nostalgia. There is a baseball movie entitled For the Love of the Game where Kevin Costner plays a superstar pitcher on the back end of his career. For years he has a secret ability to clear his mind and utterly focus on the task at hand -- throwing strikes. In the movie, he can be on the mound in an utterly hostile place like Yankee Stadium and simply say, “Clear the mechanism” and the crowd would literally fade away. He discovered, however, that the older he got, the more tired he was and the more his joints began to ache, the more difficult that was to accomplish. I can relate!
Jesus modeled for us the importance of “clearing the mechanism.” I would contend that in the history of the world no one had a more important job than Jesus. He wasn’t running a business or overseeing a country, he was saving the world… and he only had three years to do it! Every single moment of his ministry was utterly crucial and packed with incredible purpose and significance. Yet, he modeled for us the need in the midst of the chaos and clatter to go spend time with his “Abba.” He would be in the midst of a major crusade, tens of thousands for a feeding miracle, throngs coming for healing and hope and the disciples would have to search for him because he had slipped off into the wilderness or the mountains. The disciples usually found him huddled behind a rock in prayer with God. They would protest, “Don’t you know that you’re needed?! Everybody is looking for you!” Jesus never responded and didn’t really seem to care.
The last two Sundays, Pastor Terry, Scott and I have kicked off the New Year by proclaiming that this year will be a year of “vision” for GMUMC – VISION 2020. We have invited you to pause and reflect on your own walk with God, your own response to Jesus’ call upon your life to be a disciple… a follower and not simply a fan. To see, as Terry and Scott preached on Sunday, that you have been planted in this time, in this place, in this church, in your marriage or singleness, in your neighborhood, in your career or moment of retirement on purpose. As God said through Jeremiah in the messages yesterday, “Circumstances may have seemed to bring you here, but it was I that carried you here,” says the Lord (Jeremiah 29:7, 14). So I urge you and us to take time individually and collectively amidst the busyness of our individual and collective lives to clear the mechanism and ask God for clarity in God’s vision for our lives.
I must practice what I preach or else it’s just words. So, as Terri and I sat on the Canadian shores of Lake Erie and prayed together, I was reminded of words from Susan B. Anthony who once said, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” Our prayer was and is, “What do you want to do Lord, through our lives, our marriage, our ministry.” That was our first step in 2020 to clear the mechanism. I hope you will join us in disciplining ourselves to listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice this year.
This Sunday, we will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday at all services at both campuses. Our preacher will be Oneya Okuwobi. Oneya is no stranger to GMUMC. This will be her third visit here! She and her husband “Dele” and daughter Candace will be with us on Sunday. They are launching a new church in Cincinnati called 21st Century Church and you will be invited to make a special offering to help jump start this new church (offerings can be made from Sunday through the end of the month – learn how on Sunday). Oneya’s bio is below:
“Oneya Fennell Okuwobi is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology studying race and religion at The Ohio State University. Oneya’s research interrogates how diverse organizations impact racial inequality. Along with her husband, Oladele, Oneya is founding elder of 21st Century Church, a church plant in Cincinnati, OH. She is co-author of Multiethnic Conversations: An Eight-Week Journey toward Unity in Your Church. It is the first personal devotional and small group study on multiethnic life and church designed for people in the pews. You can find Oneya @Ookuwobi or Transcendculture.com.”
january 6, 2020
On January 5th, we shared that the year 2020 will be a year of vision for GMUMC. In February 2007, Starbucks founder and Chairman of the Board, Howard Schultz, sent a memo to his CEO, Jim Donald, that somehow found its way on to the Internet. I received three copies of it that day from other entrepreneurial friends who knew I would want to see it. In it, Schultz expressed concern that his company had veered from its original charter. He felt that internal decisions had led to a dilution of what customers had come to expect from a visit to Starbucks (sales and plunging stock prices demonstrated this reality). Schultz urged his CEO to create a course that would lead Starbucks back to its original vision. The problem was this – America’s premier coffee-drinking environment had drifted from its original vision.
This phenomena is known as “vision drift.” It is so easy for this to occur. It is rarely obvious, but happens subtly, yet the results are deadly. Schultz said that he learned that there are three obstacles to making vision stick: Success, Failure and Everything in Between! Success can cause us to take our hands off of the wheel and failure can cause us to overcorrect. In short, vision can never be put on autopilot.
There are so many similarities in this story to the Church that Jesus gave his life to build. He gave the mission and cast the vision plainly – here is a synopsis of his charter commands prior to leaving Planet Earth:
“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you. Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. You will be my witnesses in your immediate community, as well as in all of Greater Cleveland, in places that the world avoids due to poverty, racism and violence, and even to the ends of the earth. The gates of hell will not prevail against you, and remember I am with you always even to the end!” (John 20:21; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts1:8 – putting what “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria” would be in our local context; Matthew 16:18).
That’s it, that’s Christ’s vision for his Church. That’s Jesus’ answer to the question, Why Church? Yet, even by the time of John’s vision on Patmos recounted in Revelation, the church had already drifted from it. The American Church has drifted from it continually which is why it finds itself with the declining numbers and impact today. For the last 15 years at GMUMC, we have worked hard to make this vision stick, but as Schultz also wrote during his 2007 Starbucks crisis: “Vision doesn’t stick without constant care and attention.”
In 2020, we are going to have our vision checked and give it careful care and attention. We will be seeking God’s micro-vision for GMUMC for the next 3 years, and his more macro-vision for us for the next 10 years. We are urging all members and friends of GMUMC to pray for God’s vision for this church and to take steps to go further in your own personal discipleship. We will be seeking advice from national consultants in areas of implementing mission / vision and building a business plan for longer term financial sustainability. We have experienced much of what the church world would call “success” these past 15 years. Yet, minding Schultz’s perspectives above, we are not taking our hands off of the wheel. Nor, if and when we bump up against failure and challenges will we overcorrect. This is Vision 2020. Walt Disney, another great American visionary, invited people to become employees at Disney by enlisting them to be “visioneers.” I think Jesus would have loved that term! Become a “visioneer” with us for the building of the kingdom of God this year!
PS: One way you can jump in as a 2020 “visioneer” is by enlisting as “one of the 200,” willing to take a “test drive” in serving the mission of the church. We shared about this on Sunday. Learn more at: https://garfieldchurch.org/testdrive
december 16, 2019
There is a Christmas theme that I have been contemplating. It is “finding favor with God.” When Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel announcing that she would give birth to the Son of God, he greets her by calling her “favored one,” “you who are highly favored,” “you who have found favor with God.” The root definition for the word “favor” is “approval.” Why did God mark Mary with a stamp of approval and deem her highly favored? Scholars of the Ancient Near East are perplexed by this greeting and find it extremely odd. “The greeting is unusual, especially to a person of low status. Given the usual age for Galilean virgins, Mary was likely between 12-15 years old; her age, her gender and her being a Galilean villager would have given her little social standing” (Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible).
So why does this one of no “social standing” in the world receive the highest approval and immeasurable favor from the God of the universe? Maybe because her age, her gender, and her being from a remote village scorned by the entire region of Judah (see John 1:46!) had kept her from being corrupted by the world. There is something very pure and innocent about this young child Mary. In fact, she is a stark opposite to the people of power in the Christmas story. The news of Christ’s birth was not received well in the palace. King Herod viewed it as a threat and tried to destroy it. Prior to visiting Mary, the angel Gabriel appeared to the holiest man in the land (the high priest) in the holiest place on the earth (the holy of holies in the Temple in Jerusalem) and the priest “did not believe the good news” (Luke 1:19-20). Mary is different. There are no layers of thick pride and prejudice for the angel to get through. She simply says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).
I had a “Mary moment,” if you will, yesterday during our 9:00 AM Heritage service at Pepper Pike. We live in uncertain times in our country right now. The word “divided” doesn’t even seem to measure up anymore to the temperament we see these days. Hearing the words “civil war” coming even from well-known preachers of the gospel is both disheartening and irresponsible. I highly doubt an angel would appear and call these attitudes “highly favored.” Yet, I did feel, sense and see the favor of God resting over a group of people on Sunday. Forty or so children from our Kidz Space joined the choir for a special musical offering. While they sang, other children about Mary’s age served as ushers and passed plates as they collected money for their Christmas project of building another well through Charity Water for other children and families in the world to receive clean water for the first time in their lives. At that moment, it all made sense to me. This is why God chose Mary… this is why she was highly favored.
As I watched these children from “every tongue, tribe and nation”… from conservative parents and from progressive more liberal parents… from Heritage parents and from Mosaic parents… from public schools and private schools and home schooled… from long generations of American families and from newer immigrant families… one prevailing thought seared in my mind – these beautiful children don’t even know how to be divided! It will be up to us their sinful parents and grandparents to teach them that. Which group do you think is highly favored of God? Politicians, high profile preachers and pundits spewing lies and lobbing verbal missiles like school yard bullies; or this group of children singing Silent Night in one unified voice? Who is telling the truth? The Christmas angel demands an answer. As Elijah said centuries ago on Mt. Carmel, “If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal (the god of the world), then follow him. How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21). Think long and hard and pray about where your loyalties lie this Christmas. I did this morning. I’m following our children. They were my Christmas angels this year and I heard from them echoes of that first “great company of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest… and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:13-24).
december 10, 2019
This Christmas season we have been listening to John’s telling of the Christmas story. Absent are all of the best known Christmas figures… No Mary, Joseph and the babe… no shepherds or angels… no wise men. What there is in John’s account, however, is a whole lot of light. Thus, our Christmas Teaching Series has been titled, “Where There’s Night, There’s Light.” Pastor Steve shared in his message this past Sunday that John’s predominant images for Jesus in his Gospel are light, truth and life. John writes, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Notice, John says “coming.” Not already here, not arising… coming from somewhere else!
Tim Keller writes, “The Christmas message is that ‘on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned’ (Isaiah 9:2). Notice that it doesn’t say from the world a light has sprung, but upon the world a light has dawned. It has come from outside. There is light (‘true light’) outside of this world, and Jesus has brought that to save us; he is the Light (John 8:12)” (Keller, “Hidden Christmas”).
This Sunday at Pepper Pike at 9:00 AM, our chancel choir will hold their Christmas Concert of music. There will be pieces of Handel’s Messiah. Handel wrote that verse in Isaiah 9:2 into his text heralding the Messiah’s birth. If you read, Isaiah 8, however, you find out why God says through Isaiah that we need this God given light at the beginning of chapter 9. In chapter 8:19-20, it says that people are consulting mediums and magicians instead of God. Chapter 8 ends with the words, “Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land… They will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom” (Isaiah 8:21-22).
What is the problem? They are looking “toward the earth” and human resources to fix the world. They are looking to their experts, their scientists, their politicians, their scholars, for solutions. They are saying, we are in darkness but we can overcome it ourselves. Sound familiar? As Keller writes, “People make the same claim today. Some look to the state, some look to the market, and everyone looks at technology. Yet they share the identical assumption. Things are dark but we believe we can end that darkness with intellect and innovation.”
As TV psychoanalyst Dr. Phil is fond of saying, “How has that been working out for you?” Christmas is not a feel good story of the human race suddenly finding its better nature and pulling upon its collective goodness and resources to save itself. Christmas says to us humans, you are in perpetual darkness unable to find your way, but hear the good news, unto you is born this day – not a great political leader, not an incredible scientist or renowned teacher – but rather a Savior who is Christ the Lord.
I will let Keller have the last word, “When Jesus died on the cross, darkness fell over the whole land… The Light of the world descended into darkness in order to bring us into God’s beautiful light (1 Peter 2:9). The promises of Christmas cannot be discerned unless you first admit you can’t save yourself or even know yourself without the light of his unmerited grace in your life. This is the foundational truth from which we can proceed to learn the true meaning of Christmas.”
I hope you will join us this Sunday and next as we continue to walk in this Light. This Sunday’s theme, “The Light in the Flesh,” next Sunday, “The Light that Brings New Life,” and finally on Christmas Eve at 5:30, 7:00, 8:30 and 11:00 at Pepper Pike and 6:30 at South Euclid, “The Light in the Darkness.” Come bask in the light, the one true light that has come and is coming into the world again this Christmas! (Go to ChristmasInCLE.com for details on Christmas Eve & Blanket the City)
november 18, 2019
On Sunday, I was in Cincinnati preaching at People’s Church, a sister church in the Mosaix community. In 2002, Chris & Jan Beard, the lead pastors of People’s (an Assembly of God congregation), felt a press on their hearts to see their church look more like heaven. At the time, they were an entirely Caucasian congregation. When they shared and pursued this vision, 60% of their folks walked out. Fast forward to today, and they are three times larger in size and representative of 22 nationalities! Terri and I were so blessed to fellowship with them.
At the same service, we also connected with our friends Oneya and Dele Okuwobi (Oneya is the co-author of Multiethnic Conversations and has preached here at GMUMC several times). They are launching a new church in Cincinnati focused on non-church people called 21st Century Church. People’s Church, their original church, is sponsoring and helping to support this effort. Currently, they are building a launch team this year “at the table” as they share weekly meals and table fellowship.
People’s Church has more of a Pentecostal vibe. During the 11:15 service, the Holy Spirit fell hard on us and people were speaking in tongues, led to move to the altar and I swear I met Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) who came down front in a wheelchair and worshipped so intensely that his yells reverberated through my chest. It was glorious.
It reminded me that God has created each one of us so uniquely and our worship and praise back to God is equally unique. When we allow each other the space to worship together in spite of those differences and keep our eyes squarely on Jesus, it is magical.
As I preached last Sunday at GMUMC and yesterday at People’s about “making space” at the table, I pray that each of us will continue to make space for “others”… other perspectives, other opinions, other cultures, other languages and experiences. When we do that, Paul writes that “the manifold wisdom of God is made known” (Ephesians 3:10). Thank you GMUMC for continuing to “make space” for me and for “others.”
October 28, 2019
In the late 80’s, the televangelist world was rocked by several high profile scandals on the part of two very prominent television preachers. One such scandal was focused around the PTL (short for Praise the Lord) Club Television Ministry and the Heritage USA Christian theme park. In 1989, Jim Bakker was indicted, convicted, and imprisoned on numerous counts of fraud and conspiracy, resulting in the dissolution of The PTL Club and the subsequent closure of Heritage USA. As land and assets were being sold off in an effort to pay restitution for embezzlement and satisfy creditors, various auctions took place. At one auction, office furniture was being sold off and a middle aged couple showed up determined to buy a specific table from one of the facilities former “counseling center.”
The couple met privately with the auctioneer and offered to pay a substantial price for this particular table. The auctioneer cautioned them saying that was way more than the table would bring at auction and they could buy it much cheaper bidding on it there. No… they insisted that they didn’t want to take the chance and wrote out a significant check for this seemingly small and plain conference table. The auctioneer was curious and asked why they treasured it so much. “You do know,” he said, “that some pretty bad things happened with finances here?” “Yes, we know,” they responded, “but we also know that our marriage was saved with the help of a licensed Christian counselor at that table.”
Powerful things can happen at table together. Even when the world around us seems to be losing its collective mind, there is power at the table. This Sunday, we will begin a new teaching series for the month of November entitled From Tablet to Table. More and more we have become a people devoid of community and meaningful fellowship. Most of our time is being spent on devices, phones, and tablets living, connecting and communicating in cyberspace. Our most frequent form of conversation is being held on social media and is more like posting billboards than having any form of meaningful discussion. University researchers in Australia have even discovered that this is even having physiological consequences.
“New research in biomechanics suggests that young people are developing hornlike spikes at the back of their skulls — bone spurs caused by the forward tilt of the head, which shifts weight from the spine to the muscles at the back of the head, causing bone growth in the connecting tendons and ligaments. The weight transfer that causes the buildup can be compared to the way the skin thickens into a callus as a response to pressure or abrasion. The cause, they hypothesize, is prolonged use of smartphones and other handheld devices, which require users to bend their heads forward to make sense of what’s happening on the miniature screens.” (Washington Post, 6-25-2019).
If an iPhone or tablet has the ability to distort us out of our natural shape, the table can be the vessel to restore us. “Bring back the table!” shouts Christian theologian and teacher, Leonard Sweet, “If we were to make the table the most sacred object of furniture in every home, in every church, in every community, our faith would quickly regain its power, and our world would quickly become a better place.”
This Sunday we will gather at the Lord’s Table as we do the first Sunday of every month. This Sunday is also known as All Saints Day in the church calendar. We always light a candle and remember those from our congregation who are now seated at the Lord’s heavenly banquet table. Come let us break bread together and share the cup… and bring back the table!
October 21, 2019
Years ago, Jerry Maguire, starring Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Regina King became an iconic movie for my generation. The plot about a successful sports agent suddenly looking for the meaning of life, was really about a search for love. The characters played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Regina King had the perfect relationship full of love, fun, chaos and loyalty. Cruise’s character had none of it and honestly had no idea what it would even look like. When he finally finds it in the most unlikely place of his employee played by Zellweger and her indelible son, he is clumsy with it and does everything he can to lose it. At the film’s resolution when Cruise finally finds everything he has been looking for in his marriage to Zellweger he utters the unforgettable phrase, “You complete me.”
That phrase was romanticized, used in cheesy fashion and mocked by late night comics for the next 10 years! My mom used to tell me that a cliché does not become a cliché unless there is some serious truth in it. Maybe we all teared up in the theaters when we heard that phrase and then taunted and dismissed it through satire afterward because it just hit too close to home. We all long for someone or something to complete us.
I have been extremely humbled by our teaching this fall, “I Said This, You Heard That.” After intensively learning my “Strengths” through Ministry by Strengths these past nine years, and now growing to know my temperaments through this discipleship training, I am gaining more self-awareness than ever before. The past two weeks lessons have been the most difficult, “The Words Your Temperament Needs” and “When Your Needs Aren’t Filled.” I tend to get frustrated with overly “needy people” and I certainly never want to be counted in that number. These lessons screamed at me, “Liar, liar, pants on fire! “…we are all in that number somewhere along the line, as we all have temperament needs.
At first I tried to do with my “temperament needs” what we did with the line from the movie… make fun of them, taunt them and basically dismiss them. But I got alone with them last week and had a moment of confession and repentance with the Holy Spirit’s help and admitted that they were true. I did some tough work of doing the exercises in the book of gauging when those needs were being filled and when I sensed they were not, and how I act out in response. It wasn’t a whole lot of fun (and for YELLOW’s everything has to be fun!), but it was deeply important.
Doing some work on this, I had two thoughts. My initial thought was, Wow did I ever marry the perfect person! She has such a powerful way of speaking to these deep needs I wasn’t even consciously aware that I had. More so, I’m afraid then I have been aware and attentive to intentionally meeting hers, and I am going to work on that. Secondly, I became keenly aware to the point of tears of how clearly God in Jesus Christ has spoken to and addressed all of my deepest needs. On pages 70 & 71 of the workbook, there is a list of scriptures in response to every temperament need and as our Native American brothers and sisters would say, it is “big medicine.” So with renewed faith, I was able to redeem that movie line from 1996 and say with full sincerity in that moment of devotion, “Jesus, you complete me.”
When the world, your spouse, your family, your church, those closest to you fail to meet all of your inner needs (and trust me, we all will), lean up on the gospel, listen to and read God’s words, and feel him meeting every one of them in the deepest of ways possible.
OK, end of heavy message, let’s have some fun this coming Sunday (see note above on YELLOW’s passion for fun). I will be closing out our teaching series “Jesus Said This, You Heard That: On Mountains & Mulberry Trees” and I want all of us to WEAR YOUR COLORS TO CHURCH! If you have not taken the assessment, click this link to a video in which I Said This, You Heard That author Kathleen Edelman talks about the 4 temperaments (she starts talking speciifcally at 7:58 minutes in) and take a guess at which one you are and jump in! Hey, people are dressing up this time of year for parties and trick or treat, let’s have a little fun this Sunday in church!
September 30, 2019
I don’t often do this, but I read an article this morning in the NY Times by a Christian scholar and writer whom I respect. Tim Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City and author of various books on the Christian Faith (Prodigal God is my favorite). His piece this morning, “How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? They Don’t” is so timely. I felt it was a great read and offer it to you as today’s eNote.
“What should the role of Christians in politics be? More people than ever are asking that question. Christians cannot pretend they can transcend politics and simply “preach the Gospel.” Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo. American churches in the early 19th century that did not speak out against slavery because that was what we would now call “getting political” were actually supporting slavery by doing so. To not be political is to be political.
The Bible shows believers as holding important posts in pagan governments — think of Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament. Christians should be involved politically as a way of loving our neighbors, whether they believe as we do or not. To work for better public schools or for a justice system not weighted against the poor or to end racial segregation requires political engagement. Christians have done these things in the past and should continue to do so.
Nevertheless, while believers can register under a party affiliation and be active in politics, they should not identify the Christian church or faith with a political party as the only Christian one. There are a number of reasons to insist on this. One is that it gives those considering the Christian faith the strong impression that to be converted, they need not only to believe in Jesus but also to become members of the (fill in the blank) Party. It confirms what many skeptics want to believe about religion — that it is merely one more voting bloc aiming for power.
Another reason not to align the Christian faith with one party is that most political positions are not matters of biblical command but of practical wisdom. This does not mean that the church can never speak on social, economic and political realities, because the Bible often does. Racism is a sin, violating the second of the two great commandments of Jesus, to “love your neighbor.” The biblical commands to lift up the poor and to defend the rights of the oppressed are moral imperatives for believers. For individual Christians to speak out against egregious violations of these moral requirements is not optional.
However, there are many possible ways to help the poor. Should we shrink government and let private capital markets allocate resources, or should we expand the government and give the state more of the power to redistribute wealth? Or is the right path one of the many possibilities in between? The Bible does not give exact answers to these questions for every time, place and culture. I know of a man from Mississippi who was a conservative Republican and a traditional Presbyterian. He visited the Scottish Highlands and found the churches there as strict and as orthodox as he had hoped. No one so much as turned on a television on a Sunday. Everyone memorized catechisms and Scripture. But one day he discovered that the Scottish Christian friends he admired were (in his view) socialists. Their understanding of government economic policy and the state’s responsibilities was by his lights very left-wing, yet also grounded in their Christian convictions. He returned to the United States not more politically liberal but, in his words, “humbled and chastened.” He realized that thoughtful Christians, all trying to obey God’s call, could reasonably appear at different places on the political spectrum, with loyalties to different political strategies.
Another reason Christians these days cannot allow the church to be fully identified with any particular party is the problem of what the British ethicist James Mumford calls “package-deal ethics.” Increasingly, political parties insist that you cannot work on one issue with them if you don’t embrace all of their approved positions.
This emphasis on package deals puts pressure on Christians in politics. For example, following both the Bible and the early church, Christians should be committed to racial justice and the poor, but also to the understanding that sex is only for marriage and for nurturing family. One of those views seems liberal and the other looks oppressively conservative. The historical Christian positions on social issues do not fit into contemporary political alignments.
So Christians are pushed toward two main options. One is to withdraw and try to be apolitical. The second is to assimilate and fully adopt one party’s whole package in order to have your place at the table. Neither of these options is valid. In the Good Samaritan parable told in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus points us to a man risking his life to give material help to someone of a different race and religion. Jesus forbids us to withhold help from our neighbors, and this will inevitably require that we participate in political processes. If we experience exclusion and even persecution for doing so, we are assured that God is with us (Matthew 5:10-11) and that some will still see our “good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:11-12). If we are only offensive or only attractive to the world and not both, we can be sure we are failing to live as we ought.
The Gospel gives us the resources to love people who reject both our beliefs and us personally. Christians should think of how God rescued them. He did it not by taking power but by coming to earth, losing glory and power, serving and dying on a cross. How did Jesus save? Not with a sword but with nails in his hands.”
(Timothy Keller, founder of the Redeemer Presbyterian churches in New York City, is the author of “Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy,” from which this essay is adapted).
September 23, 2019
Our fall is off and running at GMUMC. After our amazing teaching series kicked off by Kathleen Edelman and her book, “I Said This, You Heard That,” sixteen new small groups have launched. Last night I received a text from our Sunday evening small group that had forty-two in attendance! I posted a picture of it on social media and I had a pastor comment that Barna would say that’s about the average size of a church. God is moving.
As part of this fall launch we began a worship series entitled, “Jesus Said This, You Heard That.” We are looking at some of the hard sayings of Christ during this series. Yesterday we looked at Luke 14:25-27 from the topic “How to Hate Your Parents” and this week we will be looking at Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount about adultery and exploring “Sex and Love and Lust.” This is not a series for the faint of heart.
In seminary, I read a book by New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce titled “Hard Sayings of Jesus.” It opened my eyes as to how many of Christ’s sayings were difficult and rarely preached on. Here is an excerpt from his introduction to that book:
“One of the reasons for the complaint that Jesus’ sayings were hard was that he made his hearers think. For some people thinking is a difficult and uncomfortable exercise, especially when it involves the critical reappraisal of firmly held prejudices and convictions, or the challenging of the current consensus of opinion… But in those who were not put off by him he created a passionate love and allegiance which death could not destroy. They knew that in him they had found the way of acceptance, peace of conscience, life that was life indeed” (F.F. Bruce, Hard Sayings of Jesus).
Join us in doing some real “thinking” during this series! There is still time to jump into a small group. These groups will meet for six weeks. Groups are every day of the week except Saturday. Check here right now to jump in https://garfieldchurch.org/i-said
We also have a group of young adults who have initiated a ministry at GMUMC called “Meet Up’s.” They shared in our Mosaic services at Pepper Pike yesterday that the goal is to provide a time of gathering for members and friends of GMUMC to simply gather and meet folks with no agenda except fellowship. In a large church, it’s easy to get lost and think I really don’t know anybody. Hopefully, these will provide a casual way to help with that. These will take place quarterly. The first Meet Up is on October 19th at 6:00 PM at the Cleveland Urban Winery 2180 Lee Rd. Cleveland Heights. Please register at https://garfieldchurch.org/meetups. There is a $5 charge and pizza is free! (Well, I guess that means pizza is $5 LOL). Meet Up’s are for adults 21 and older.
If you have not met our new Worship & Youth Pastor Team, Dre and Leah Bracey, you are really missing out! They hit the ground running in July and are lifting us regularly in worship as well as leading our youth (grades 6-12) at Kidz Club in South Euclid on Wednesdays and Youth Group at Pepper Pike on Sundays. Our youth group kick off in August saw fifty five youth show up! If you know or have a youth in grades 6-12 tell them to jump on board because this train is rolling. Yesterday, I had a Heritage family tell me “we just spent an evening with Dre and Leah.” That blessed my heart. Get to know this team.
If you are like me, sometimes you need a mid-week spiritual lift! Our House of Prayer meets Mondays at Pepper Pike at 7:00 PM and Thursdays at South Euclid at 6:30 PM. There are times when these are an oasis in the desert for me during the week. For several, this is their only and main worship service as well. This week, our Mosaic Worship Teams will be holding a night of worship on Wednesday, September 25th at Pepper Pike at 7:00 PM called Ascension. These are held quarterly primarily for those who serve on Sundays to enjoy a night of refreshment but also for the rest of us as well! No preaching, no agenda, just praise and worship. I hope you will join us on Wednesday!
Sounds like a lot going on at GMUMC? You bet! Jump in, the water’s just fine.
September 17, 2019
Yesterday we began a new journey at GMUMC. Kathleen Edelman - the author of “I Said This, You Heard That” - was our guest speaker / teacher all day. She led us through an introductory overview of the Temperaments. Her teaching is based out of Ephesians 4:29 – “ Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Learning how to communicate in love is a requirement of followers of Jesus Christ. It is an urgent need in our world right now and we want to model it for the world.
We learned on Sunday that there are four temperaments – Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic and Phlegmatic. Those are ancient Greek words, so to make it more helpful, Kathleen has identified them with colors – Sanguine’s are YELLOW – Choleric’s are RED – Melancholic’s are BLUE and Phlegmatic’s are GREEN. Everyone has a primary temperament, even though some are more balanced in temperaments than others. (I have no balance, I’m YELLOW through and through!).
YELLOWS speak the Language of “People and Fun.”
REDS speak the Language of “Power and Control.”
BLUES speak the Language of “Order & Perfection.”
GREENS speak the language of “Calm and Harmony.”
Knowing and understanding the way some persons speak and how others may hear, helps us live out the command of Ephesians 4:29. Starting September 22nd, we will be offering six week small group trainings in this material. Hundreds of us are getting ready to know and grow as we travel through this material. We had 200 books on hand and we sold out while the line was still 20 deep! Books are $15 and you can receive them on the first day of your small group. Groups will be taking the 15-20 minute assessment together on the first meeting.
It is SO easy to sign up for a small group on our new church website at www.garfieldchurch.org and click on “I Said This, You Heard That Small Groups” or just go directly there by clicking here at https://garfieldchurch.org/i-said There are 15 group meeting options at various times and locations Sundays-Thursdays. Terri and I just signed up for ours today, we hope ALL of you will too!
september 9, 2019
On Sunday, we had a wonderful fall kick-off as we began our new fall Teaching Series, “I Said This, You Heard That.” We also celebrated another “kick-off” as many folks showed up in Browns gear (OK, a few showed up in Steelers gear) -- we threw footballs from the stage and had some fun. Hey, when we were celebrating, the Browns were still undefeated… by 4:00 PM, not so much.
This coming Sunday, September 15th you will NOT want to miss worship at either campus as Kathleen Edelman, the author of the book after which our series is titled, will be flying in from Atlanta to lead us in this important material (with the message being simulcast into our South Euclid Campus). Kathleen is a Christian Life Coach and expert in Communications and Temperaments. She will lead us on Sunday and then there will be opportunities to jump into six-week small groups using Kathleen’s I Said This, You Heard That (small groups will meet on various days & times - in homes, at our campuses, and online). You can purchase books on Sunday ($15) and sign up for a group!
This will be a great Sunday to invite friends, families, co-workers, couples, etc., especially those who may not normally attend church. This will not be a typical church service; it will be more live interview with teaching than preaching. Kathleen says that the focus of learning about our God-given temperaments is that it helps us love one another better and communicate with one another better. Can there be anything more important in our world right now than training that helps us love and communicate with others better, even those we disagree with?! Ministry By Strengths has been and still is one of our main On Ramps at GMUMC. Can you believe that close to 900 people have gone through this training in nine years? Ministry By Strengths has helped us get to know ourselves and others better, the Temperaments will be a perfect complement helping us to fulfill Jesus’ commands to Love God by Loving Others better!
If you cannot make it to worship in person this Sunday, be sure to join us online at 10:00 or 11:15 AM via our www.garfieldchurchonline.org or Facebook Live; or check out Kathleen’s teaching later in the day on our website under “Messages.” And do not miss this opportunity to invite, invite, invite. People who may not normally attend church will enjoy this teaching and may really want to jump into a small group!
Also, last week our Youth Group for students in grades 6-12 started back for their weekly gatherings on Sundays from 4:30-6:00 PM at our Pepper Pike campus. Their Kick-Off Pool Party and Cookout saw more than 50 youth show up. They were packed out last Sunday and have a new format of breaking out Junior and Senior High Youth. This ministry is being led by our new Worship and Youth Pastors Dre & Leah Bracey. Let your youth know to come dive in as this ministry is really taking off again this year!
I cannot wait to see you on Sunday and join you in this journey. I know I cannot be the only one who has said once twice or a thousand times, but, but, but “I Said This, You Heard That!” I’m excited to learn a lot through this teaching and in my small group… I hope you will too!