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eNotes by Chip

Pastor Chip's eNotes

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:

  • happiness
  • 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 WebsiteYouTube 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 phonebuddies@garfieldchurch.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:

https://garfieldchurch.org/online-worship


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 craig@garfieldchurch.org.  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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/29/opinion/sunday/christians-politics-belief.html?fbclid=IwAR1pIGV0RiuT8n3cXqlIX-RsbUg4BmpgnDHwWNs5Kn7PifGSEFYZIknLy1o


“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!