Saturday, February 27, 2010

New Sermon Series

I've been reading a lot and reflecting on various things in and around the church and realized that a great deal of what my job as pastor entails is helping others understand how God is working in them and through them. It's to try and find some answers.

But sometimes it's hard to know what the right questions are. That's what we're going to try and tackle in the sermon series we'll begin after Easter.

If you have a particular question you'd like me to address, please send me an e-mail or drop me a note and I'll consider it. Until then, could you fill out the survey on this blog? It will help me better know how to better help others, and to answer some questions I might have myself.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Off the wagon (and back on again)

I did it. I fell off the wagon this past Monday. I'm embarrassed to say it, but I had a Dr. Pepper.

Yep, back in December I decided I wanted to see if I had the willpower to fast from soft drinks for an entire year. The doctor didn't give me orders, I wasn't making some environmental statement, just a private little game I wanted to play and see if I could do it. Monday evening, 212 days into my self-proclaimed fast, I broke down.

And you know what? It tasted really, really good.

Throughout the fast I wish I could say I found myself thinking more about Christ than Coke. I wish I could say I came to relish water and felt waves of the Spirit wash over me. But I didn't. I missed soda. Was something wrong with my fast?

Nope. I think something was wrong with what I expected. There were ample times these past eight months when I could have had a Pepsi, a 7-UP, or (the most tempting of all) a Diet Mt. Dew (hi, my name is Bruce, and I'm a Dewaholic). But I didn't. I set them aside or just selected something else. It wasn't always easy, but I learned that I could set aside my first inclination and choose a different beverage.

As a pastor I often find myself the recipient of praise and acknowledgement that I frankly don't deserve. Other people have done the hard work and, as lead pastor, I get the credit. There's a flip side, too, of course. I just as often (although it feels like WAY, WAY more often) find myself the recipient of ridicule and blame that I similarly don't deserve. Other people dropped the ball, there was miscommunication (usually the culprit), whatever the case, as lead pastor I get the arrows shot my way.

And my first inclination is to straighten out the problem. To make sure people know what really happened, to the degree that I can explain without betraying confidences and the like. To help people understand that it isn't as bad, I'm not as bad as they think.

I think this is the purpose of fasting. To help me see that I don't have to go with my first inclination. To not always be quick with a ready response. To not defend, explain, justify, or in any way talk over the other's thoughts but just to let them be. It's okay. And I'll be okay, too.

So I've stopped drinking soft drinks again. Here's to stopping the inclination to put myself in a better light, too.

Back on the wagon we go.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Thomas is listed as one of the disciples in all four gospels, but in the gospel of John he plays a distinctive role. When Jesus announced His intention to go to the home of Lazarus, it was Thomas who declared, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” At the Last Supper it was Thomas who asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, and how can we know the way?” And perhaps most famously, after the resurrection it was Thomas who demanded to see the nail prints in Jesus’ hands and the wounds in His side before he would believe that Jesus was alive again.

According to Church Fathers such as Ephraem Syrus, Ambrose, Paulinus, Jerome, Gregory of Tours, and others, Thomas went to India as a slave for the king, Gundafor. While there he was entrusted with building a palace, but Thomas instead took the money given him for the project and distributed it to the poor. Thomas was imprisoned for this, but miraculously escaped and converted the king through his testimony of God’s provision. The king allowed Thomas to roam the country spreading the gospel message and many came to faith through his efforts, including the wife and son of a tribal chieftain. But this did not sit well with the ruler, who had Thomas condemned, led out of the city, and pierced through with spears by four soldiers.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year Musings from Phyllis Tickle

Some words from Phyllis Tickle, one of my favorite people to read. It gets a little weighty at times, but if you can trudge through it I think you'll find it meaningful. For the New Year, then...


Apparently and for some not-very-clear reason, it is incumbent upon the faithful in every new epoch or changing era of Christian history to re-define what we mean when we use the words "church" and/or "Church." But even if some strenuous re-thinking and re-stating had not been required during history's previous turning points, it none the less would be required for emergence Christianity. There is no question about the fact that this time around everything-whether sacred or secular and with no holds barred-is up for scrutiny and that most of everything, once scrutinized, is up for re-defining, including "church" and/or "Church."

For quite some time now, analysts and pastors and observant Christian laity alike have known and said that church is not a place, nor is it a thing. Historically, church was probably conceived of in the popular imagination as a thing several centuries before that same shared imagination began to think of it as a place. Of those two, the notion of place as definition is probably the more debilitating, but unquestionably it had also come to be the more dominant of the two during the last century. But as a conceptual definition, neither place nor thing alone is strong enough to support much vitality beyond loyalty to itself.

For that reason and within fairly recent years, others among us have offered a different conceptualizing. Some have even suggested that church and/or Church is best defined as an event. I like this one. In fact, I liked it a lot for a while. It comforted me, if for no other reason than that it was less static. While still a noun and therefore a bit of a thing itself, it had buried in it the ghost of a predicate, the cachet of an action. But then, the more I embraced it, the more it seemed to be just that ... a ghost, a cachet, a rhetorical fix.

So this New Year, I seek—hope for—am eager to overhear—a sustained and prayerful conversation about exactly what we who are Christian in this time of emergence, hold as a working definition of emergence church/Church. And lest I be accused of doing no more here than passing along some kind of theological hot potato for the fun of it, I will begin the sacred game. I will begin the first round by saying that, as of right now, I believe both church and Church are "a body of people delighting in God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit."

Such a definition can arguably be seen as more of a variant or adaptation than as a highly original thought. So be it. Either way, the truth is that whether variant or new, this one has predication and therefore relieves my yearning for action and dynamism, motion and fluidity. More to the point, it is broad enough to assume many ways and customs and enculturations as being exercises of delight and therefore of church/Church; yet it is specific enough to exclude with a surgical precision those who, turning about face toward the world, would use both church and Church as means of temporal governance. More even than these, though, I like the notion of "a body of people delighting" because as an action it can not be pinned down. Grasp it, and it simply laughs and moves on to the next thing, like a will-o'-the-wisp seducing us farther and farther into the mystery. I really like that ... at least for now I like it. But then, we have a whole new year in front of us in which to have this conversation, meaning that the only thing I am completely sure of right now is the absolute necessity of our having it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Bartholomew, which means "son of Talmai," was an ancient Hebrew name, indicating that this disciple of Christ was of Hebrew descent. Other than that, little for certain is known about him.

Many scholars claim that Bartholomew is also known in the gospels as Nathaniel. According to tradition, he preached in India and gave his converts copies of the Gospel of Matthew which were written in Hebrew. He also is said to have preached in Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Lycaonia, Phrygia, along the Black Sea, and in Armenia, where he met his martyrdom. But the tradition differs with regards to how this happened. Some claim Bartholomew was beheaded, others say that he was skinned alive and crucified, like Peter, with his head down.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Like Peter and Andrew, Philip was also a native of
Bethsaida. Originally one of John the Baptist’s disciples, he was with the Baptist when Jesus was identified as the Lamb of God. After being himself called to follow Christ as a disciple, Philip went and found his friend, Nathaniel. 

            Philip was asked by Jesus where they could get enough food to feed the multitudes. He also was approached by some non-believers in Jerusalem who wanted to meet with Christ. Little more is known about Philip, but the overall impression he gives is as a somewhat shy, sober-minded individual.

             According to tradition, Philip preached the gospel inPhrygia and was martyred there, tied with ropes to a cross and tortured until he died. His body was buried there in Hierapolis.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


A fisherman by trade, John was the son of Zebedee and Salome and the brother of James the Greater. According to tradition he became a disciple of John the Baptist before being called by Christ, along with his brother, Peter, and Andrew.

Among the disciples John had a prominent position. Peter, James, and he were the only witnesses of the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration, and the agony in Gethsemane. Only he and Peter were sent into the city to make preparations for the Last Supper, and at the supper he was seated next to Christ. It is also commonly accepted that John was the “other disciple” who with Peter followed Christ after the arrest into the palace of the high priest. John alone was at the foot of the cross with the mother of Jesus and other women, and John took Mary into his care as commanded by Jesus. After the Resurrection John and Peter were the first of the disciples to run to the grave, and John was the first to believe that Jesus had truly risen. When Jesus later appeared at the Lake of Genesareth, John was the first to recognize his master standing on the shore. His relationship with Jesus was always close, seen clearly in the title by which he was accustomed to indicate himself, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Early Christian writers testify that John lived in Ephesus in the last decades of the first century. Justin Martyr refers to John living in that city, and Irenaeus declared that John wrote his gospel there. Tertullian tells that John was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil before the Porta Latina at Rome but miraculously escaped injury. And Eusebius and others state that John was banished to Patmos during the reign of the Emperor Domitian which lasted from 81-96 AD. Saint John is said to have died of old age in Ephesus around AD 100.

Monday, October 20, 2008

James, the Greater

The son of Zebedee, a fisherman, and Salome, daughter of a temple priest, James was the older brother of Saint John. According to many scholars, Salome was the sister of the Virgin Mary, making James and his brother John cousins of Jesus. This might account for Salome’s request that they be given privilege in the Kingdom as well as Jesus’ request from the cross that John care for His mother.

In the synoptic gospels James is called along with his brother John to leave their father and their nets and become Jesus’ disciples. He is often listed, along with Peter and John, as members of a privileged group closest to Christ. He was present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration, and the agony in the garden.

He was martyred in 44 when Herod Agrippa I, son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod the Great, sought to please the Jews of Jerusalem by persecuting the Christian church. As a prominent leader of the growing Christian sect, James was beheaded, the first victim in this campaign. According to tradition, when James’ accuser led him to the judgment seat he was so moved by James’ confession that he became a Christian on the spot and shared James’ fate.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Watch Your Enemy" Scriptures

Several asked about the Scriptures that I used in yesterday's message. Here they are.

May your personal study bear much fruit for the Kingdom!

1 Timothy 1:20
1 Timothy 3:6-7
1 Timothy 5:14-15
Ephesians 6:10-18
Ezekiel 28:11-19
Isaiah 14:12-15
2 Timothy 2:25-26
2 Corinthians 2:11
2 Corinthians 4:4
Matthew 16:18
Matthew 4:1-10
Psalm 119:9, 11
James 4:7-8
1 Peter 5:8-9
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
John 1:5

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Kingdom Perspective in An Electoral Season

From our Board of Bishops of the Free Methodist Church of North America.... Read it and practice it.


In the current political and social climate of the United States, we must appreciate the truly global church that we have become as Free Methodists. We are sensing the profound responsibility this places on us—located in the west, in one of the wealthiest and most resourceful nations on earth. We recall that we are kingdom people, that God calls all people everywhere to be His, that our citizenship is in heaven first. In fact, we are bound to and have more in common with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world than we do even our fellow Americans who are unbelievers. We affirm that God does not need us or our nation to carry out His kingdom agenda. The gospel of the kingdom does not depend on the current or any anticipated political, social, cultural status quo.

The church’s mission, no less in an electoral season, in cooperation with God’s Spirit in manifesting kingdom reality, challenges every this-worldly platform and ideology. No party will champion the cause of the kingdom in its entirety. We acknowledge that Christians in the U.S. have often been seduced by reductionist views of the gospel and morality and have thus given uncritical allegiance to partisan agenda that fall short of the Christian hope.

Therefore, we urge our members and adherents to weigh carefully and pray fervently over candidates, ballot referenda, and all political issues before us, and then seek to vote in ways that reflect as fully as possible the heart of Jesus Christ for the whole world. In so doing, we remind our people that the way of Jesus is the way of cross-bearing, of self sacrificing love, of costly obedience, and of giving all for the sake of others, especially for those on the margins. Indeed, this way of Jesus often directly counters the ideologies of this world.

Board of Bishops
Free Methodist Church

Matthew Thomas
David RollerDavid Kendall