A Renewed Hope in the Future

My daily march through the newspaper is rarely good. Yet another troubled person opened fire on the staff of a newsroom in Maryland. 5 people shot dead. I was deeply moved by the editorial page in their paper the next day. The idea that they were able to get back to work was inspiration enough. But their editorial page was completely blank except for these four words: “TODAY WE ARE SPEECHLESS”

There are more and more of those days for far too many of us. The cumulative effect is often a sort of erosion of the heart. We become numb to it all. Another day, another mass shooting?? Ho Hum. I fear the outcome of this for many is a loss of hope.

There is evidence for this. The birth rate is down in most nations around the world. Why is that? Experts say that when people don’t recognize a good future, they stop having children. The phrase I often heard from the hopeless ones was this: “Why would I want to bring a child into a world like this?”

Then came Lewis. Samantha and Mark welcomed a son into the world at the end of June. His name is Lewis Brannon McGlothlin. Lewis certainly doesn’t “belong” to us. But then again, we have all walked alongside Sam and Mark in their pregnancy and we have been also anxiously awaiting his arrival. No, he doesn’t belong to us, but maybe we can all serve as cousins and aunts and uncles. Lewis deserves all the love we can give him. Especially in a world like ours.

Lewis renews my hope in the future. I’m reminded that the shooter in Maryland wasn’t born to do that. No purveyor of violence and mayhem is born to it. They are taught--sometimes by a bad home life--sometimes by other factors. Imagine yourself looking into the crib of the young man who grew up to shoot those 5 people. Can you see him? He is small and helpless and beautiful. And we think to ourselves, how is it possible you could grow up to do such a heinous thing?

Lewis and all the other children like him offer our best chance at salvation. He will be taught well. He will be loved unconditionally. He will be held accountable and he will grow into a terrific human being. And we all need Lewis and all the other children to grow that way.

So congratulations Sam and Mark! We are thrilled for you. We look forward to having Lewis crawl around us. Thank you for bringing us all a measure of hope for a better future.

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PEACE

Jim
 

A Letter of Appreciation for Ernie

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Most of you are aware that a lot of work is done around the church that you don’t necessarily see because you aren’t here much during the week. For instance, we have dedicated volunteers who help us at the front desk. We couldn’t do without them (and can always use more help). Faithful Sunday School leaders prepare lessons during the week for Sunday. Various committees meet regularly to plan for the future.

But I suspect that none of us is fully aware of the contributions of Ernie Dixon to the life of our church over the last 22 years. Managing a sprawling complex like ours is not an easy task. Hardly a day goes by that you don’t hear someone say, “We need Ernie!”

On your behalf, Ernie is generally the first to arrive and the last to leave if there is a function held at the church like a dinner, a wedding, a funeral, etc. And while we all bask in the glow of Christmas Eve--maybe one of the best services of the year--Ernie is typically here until the wee hours taking down a host of worship decorations in preparation for Christmas.

In addition, there is no adequate way to determine exactly how much money Ernie has saved the church over the years just because of his knowledge of the facility and the ability to fix things that break. Our facility is 50 years old. Some of our systems are outdated and frequently need maintenance. Ernie knows where every pipe, wire, switch, and ghost is in this building. That knowledge is priceless and it will be missed.

Beyond all that, Ernie has simply been such a reassuring presence here. Whenever I saw him in the building, I knew that nothing could happen that he couldn’t troubleshoot. His manner was always calming; I never once heard Ernie’s voice raise in my years here. Whereas some of us (probably me included) would likely react with panic at certain situations, not Ernie. I am deeply grateful to him for that.

This Sunday, June 24th, we will host a reception for Ernie to say “thank you” for his years of service. We have encouraged a “love offering” for him and you still have time this week to contribute to that if you haven’t already. The reception will occur immediately following the 10:30 service.

Ernie’s last day will be June 30th. He and Sally are in the process of preparing their home to be sold and then to make their move to Florida. This has been their dream for some time and no one is more deserving.

And so, Ernie, we bid you “Vaya Con Dios”--Go With God. We will always be friends and we say “Thank You” for all you’ve meant to us.

PEACE

Jim
 

Sending Forth

 
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When Sam and I arrived two years ago, we were blessed to find some amazing staff members already in place. It made our transition so much easier knowing we had these folks to join up with. After 40 plus years in ministry, one thing I do know for sure is that change is inevitable. It is rare, indeed, to have an entire church staff stay together for many years.

Most of you know that Kelli Hamilton joined our staff as an ordained Nazarene pastor. She was able to bring a wealth of experience and the heart of a pastor to her role as Youth Minister at Belle Meade. Kelli’s call to ministry never faded. She made a decision to pursue a transfer to the United Methodist Church, to have her orders accepted and to serve one day as the pastor of a church.

That day has come. Kelli completed the tasks given to her by the Board of Ordained Ministry. She was recently approved by that board and will be subsequently Commissioned as a Provisional Elder in our church TONIGHT, June 13th, at 7:00 at Brentwood UMC. You are all invited and encouraged to come and support Kelli in this important moment for her.

Kelli has been a valuable member of our church staff. She is very bright and insightful. She brought a total “teamwork” mindset to our staff and was quick to jump in and help out in areas that had nothing to do with her role. We will definitely miss that about her.

Kelli also brought a transformational vision to the crucial work of discipling our youth. Most youth groups I know of thrive temporarily under the “superstar” leader model. I’ve watched this time and again. This model tends to produce great results on the front end and then a spectacular flame-out. The youth in that model are somewhat the victims.

Kelli began the very difficult work of transforming our model to one that doesn’t depend on the star youth pastor, but rather seeks to bring in many leaders among the church--a model that is far more sustainable over the long haul. This transformation hasn’t been easy, but Kelli deserves our gratitude for undertaking this work.

Over the years, Kelli has taken our youth on a spiritual journey, investing in their faith and leadership through Sunday and Wednesday programming, mission trips, choir tours, and connect groups. We are thankful for all the time she has given and all the love she has poured into our young people and their families.

Beyond all that, Kelli is more than a valued colleague in ministry; she is also our friend and we are going to miss her. This Sunday, the 17th, we will be saying our final goodbye to Kelli. I hope you’ll make every effort to be here as we send forth Kelli, Levi, Tessa and Debbie to their next place of ministry.

 

Peace,

Jim
 

A Life Well-Lived

This is the season of graduations. We recognized our high school graduates this past Sunday in worship and sent them forward with prayers for the next chapter in their journey. All of us who have been there already know how exciting and even a little scary that journey is.

In one of our efforts to achieve deeper Community Partnerships, our church is once again hosting Hillwood High School’s Baccalaureate Service on Sunday, May 20. This is our way of being involved in the lives of those students and reminding them that there is a place for God in their future.

This is also the season of graduation speeches. I’ve been through my share of them and so have most of you. Rev. Maurice Moore, whom some of you know, gave one of the best ones at my Martin College graduation. His sermon was titled, “The Time of Figs”. You know when you can remember the title of a sermon or speech from 40 years ago, it must have been pretty good.

Most of the these speeches run along similar lines. Be all you can be, go change the world, do remarkable things, yada, yada, yada.

I think maybe we should be more honest with our graduates. We all HOPE you will go forward and do those remarkable things, but our experience tells us that very few will. Most graduates of high school or college will settle into a life that they hope will provide comfort for themselves and their families. Many of them will choose a life that doesn’t bring any joy--just a paycheck.

And we should be honest with our graduates that in most cases the deck is stacked against you. There will be many, many obstacles to prevent you from achieving your dreams.

What I told our graduates at the luncheon we held for them this past Sunday was this: you can’t play scared. I told them about my time as a collegiate tennis player. We had a pretty good team at Martin. And what we learned very early on was if you play not to lose, you will almost assuredly lose. The way to get your best into the world is to play without fear. Which means you can’t be afraid to foul up. You can’t be afraid to lose. You can’t become paralyzed by the fear of possibly making a mistake. You have to learn to have a short memory--you mess up, you do your best to correct it, figure out how not to make the same mistake again, and move on.

Jesus told His disciples just before He ascended to Heaven this: “Greater things you will do than I have ever done.” That is a stunning moment given to us by the Savior of the World. But he meant it. And we should take it to heart.

One last thing for our graduates and all the rest of us, too--maybe you won’t change the world, but you can definitely change your little corner of it. And that will be a life well-lived.

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PEACE

Jim
 

The Word Made Flesh

 
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counseling center at belle meade umc

I wanted to take a moment to say hello and introduce myself to you, personally. As some of you may know, I recently joined the Counseling Center at Belle Meade UMC and am thrilled to be joining alongside my new friend and mentor, Chris O’Rear. If you haven’t met Chris yet, please pop your head in and say hi! We’re right upstairs.

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When Rev. Sam asked me if I would mind sharing an introduction with you, I sat down in front of my miracle laptop (It has died and come back to life 3 times in the course of 2 years) and began to type a bio. As I capped off the 3rd paragraph, I looked back and realized I hadn’t truly told you anything. Call me crazy, but I believe one of the best ways to get to know a person is through the stories they tell. So, I’ve decided to tell you a quick story of a single moment that has had the greatest impact on me as a counselor, and even more so, a follower of Christ.

In the spring of 2014, I had the privilege of observing a pastoral counselor supporting a loved one in hospice. I was already well on my way as a counselor, but the idea of being in the presence of a pastoral counselor in a hospice setting was new. I watched this man as he served. He was gentle, and he was kind. He was patient, and he was courteous. I watched as he read scripture to my loved one and sat with her hand in his. I listened as he prayed. His presence was comforting and warm, and I couldn’t help but think what a remarkable contrast his presence was to the event that was taking place. When it was time for him to leave, I watched as this stranger walked over to my loved one, leaned over and gently kissed her forehead goodbye. In that moment, I realized I had witnessed a beautiful example of Christ’s love and what it looks like to love others as the Lord has loved us.
     
Throughout my time as a counselor, I can’t help but look back at this moment and feel gratitude and inspiration. When we look at our community we can see Christ within our peers, our loved ones, and even within strangers. Because the Word became flesh, we are given a flawless illustration of love, for He is Love. When I think about this story and why this pastoral counselor left such a mark on my heart, I realized that because this man walked so closely with the Lord, it was so easy to quickly recognize Christ within him.  

Blessings,

Cara Lindell

If you have any questions about the counseling process or would like to schedule an appointment, you can reach me at Cara@counselingatbmumc.com or (615) 763-3236 ext. 702

From Darkness to Light

When I was in college, I joined the Crew Team. We woke up at 4:30am to get out on the water for practice. Needless to say, our day started in the dark. At our leader’s command, we surrounded the boat and picked it up as a team of eight. We slipped it in the water and positioned ourselves starboard or port. Quietly and softly, our paddles took us away from the shallow shoreline. As we warmed up our muscles and shook off our slumber, the sun began to rise, painting the sky orange and pink. As we moved along the bank of the river, a local church’s cross shone in the distance. I looked forward to the comfort of the rising sun and the illuminated cross each new dawn.

In this season of Easter, we have repeatedly said, “We are Easter people.” As Easter people, we watch for this transition, this promised movement from darkness to light. It is our hope and our reward, especially when our mourning hearts need to rejoice again. Each long, dark night of the soul is met with a rising sun; fresh dew of mercy.

I am still not over the beauty of this transition in our text from Sunday. In John 21:1-17, Peter and several other disciples are fishing through the night on a boat. They have caught absolutely nothing underneath the stars and sound of waves. Out of nowhere, a voice calls out to them from the shore to cast their net on the other side of the boat.

Realizing this stranger is the risen Jesus, the scene shifts. John alerts Peter, who seems to be the most reactive and impulsive person in the gospel. Peter jumps into the water and swims to shore. 

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Jesus is there in the sand tending to a charcoal fire. Can you picture its glow? I imagine that fire mirrored Peter’s heart; his dashed dreams and heartache were starting to turn into joy and celebration. 

Jesus was alive. He was present. And he was offering the same thing he did on his last night with the disciples — a seat at the table no matter who they were or what they had done, a gift of nourishment, a meal that symbolized friendship and grace.

According to the gospel of John, this was the third time Jesus reappeared to his disciples. Jesus met Mary at the tomb in the dark. Jesus appeared to his scared disciples behind locked doors in the evening. And here, Jesus met Peter as the stars and sun swapped places.

What does this mean for us? 

It means Jesus will meet us in the dark, when we need him most. It means Jesus will appear to us with resurrection power when death and loss sting beyond our imagining. It means Jesus is still alive; he is still present.

Train your eyes to watch for this transition, this promised movement from darkness to light. It is coming. 

 

Grace and peace,

Pastor Sam 

Our ever-present need for a Savior

As I write this, I’ve just heard about the plight of the young autistic boy from Dickson who has been missing for the last three or four days. Hundreds of volunteers from the community have been scouring the countryside looking for him. His name is Joe Daniel. Now we learn that Little Joe, whose condition makes it difficult for him to speak, was killed by his own father. As of this writing there has been no motive determined.

Motive. What in God’s name could cause a father to murder his son? Apply all the psychology you can to this horrible tale, but don’t forget to include at least a mention of evil. Something evil happened inside this father. That it may have been caused by all manner of trauma in this man’s life will not be a surprise. But it is also unspeakably evil.

Feel free if you like to say “the devil made him do this.” I find that people don’t really need to blame evil acts on any outside agent. We, all of us, apparently are capable under the wrong circumstances of performing evil actions. Maybe this is what the early church meant when it devised a theology of original sin. Or maybe the easier way to say it is how one of my favorite seminary professors, Dr. Liston Mills, said it: “When you come right down to it, people are just no damn good.”

My personal heart today is to feel deep sympathy for this boy and his other family. These kinds of stories--schoolyard shootings, horrible abuse, random acts of violence--serve to remind us why the church and our story of death and resurrection are needed now more than ever. The story of God and Christ is not passé. It is as vital as it has ever been. More and more it is clear that left to our own devices, we will destroy each other and our planet.

Our story says there is something better--something more. There is Purpose and Mind behind the universe. And the core of it is Love.  

 
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PEACE

Jim
 

Spiritual Reboot

 
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Palm--Passion--Easter: this is the driving force that lay behind the Christian faith. We call it Holy Week. There’s a lot going on in this week. Fully a third of the gospels are devoted to this last week in the life of Jesus which should serve as a pretty good clue as to how important the early church thought of these last events.

Although there are still some growing churches (including ours), the overall trajectory of American Christianity is declining. Fewer and fewer people are carving the time into their busy lives to observe a Christian life.

I’m not absolutely sure one can draw a straight line from the decline in faith to a decline in the moral fiber of our nation, but I would also challenge you to find a better explanation. The things that were once thought of as right and wrong have now undergone an evolution of their own. Some of that evolution has been necessary. Some have grown and festered like a fungus that is hard to eradicate.

What I do know is that what has always been true about our faith is still true--living a life following Jesus is a better way to live. You and I both know too many people--friends and neighbors and even family members--who are desperately unhappy. The quest for meaning in the acquisition of “stuff” brings temporary smiles, but just like a two-year-old on Christmas morning, we get bored with stuff pretty quickly.

Following Jesus--especially during this week we call “Holy” will not solve every problem you have. But following Jesus is the best way to lean fully into life. A life that values beauty and truth and goodness. A life that respects all other life. A life that says you are loved and valued for no other reason than God says so and with nothing to prove to anyone else. A life that promises you will do some things badly, but that there is forgiveness on the other side and a chance to do better tomorrow what you may have done poorly today.

With all due respect, you can’t get all that at Rotary or Lions Club or Kiwanis or Civitan. All fine organizations, but none that can promise what God does.

So this week is a week to “re-engage” if you’ve been drifting. Holy Week is the account of how God goes “all in” with Jesus. It’s our chance to do the same. Come to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services this week at 6:15 p.m. Come to one of the three Easter services on Sunday at 6:30, 8:30 and 10:30.

The staff at the church will attest that I am woefully ignorant of computer things. I’m learning, but it isn’t “intuitive” to me and so I must depend on their kindness of pulling me through. One thing I HAVE learned, though, is that when the computer starts to act up and not perform correctly, the first thing to be done is to shut it off so that it can “reboot”. Most of the time, this solves the problem.

Would you understand me today if I suggested Holy Week is the perfect, spiritual reboot?

PEACE

Jim

Rest In Peace, Dear Friend

 
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I don’t even know where to begin. I got the call early Tuesday morning telling me that Michael Williams had died. A sudden death like that comes as a shock and I was having a very difficult time processing it in my mind. I had just seen Michael at the Project Transformation luncheon a few days before. We talked for a few minutes like we always did.

My first reaction was to reach out to colleagues and friends who knew and loved him--to alert them to this sad news. Everyone’s reaction was the same--disbelief.

My mind took me back to a couple of weeks ago to the memorial service for Rick Osgood. This was so eerily similar--such a sudden death to a much-beloved friend. Michael and I had talked about an idea I’ve had about creating a storytelling festival on the west side of town and he was very excited about that and pledged to help make it happen.

We talked about his retirement--just last year. He was now teaching at Martin Methodist College and doing some traveling as a featured storyteller and lecturer. What I remember most that day was him telling me how much fun he was having now that the pressure of leading a church was no longer on him. He was relaxed, light, excited.

I don’t like thinking about the world without him. Michael brought joy, insight, and meaning to life in a unique way. I doubt everyone knows that Michael was once the Associate Pastor at Columbia First UMC. Columbia, TN is the home of the annual Mule Day Festival where some 250,000 people (and mules) descend on the town for what is truly a pure slice of small-town Americana. One of the highlights of the Mule Day Festival is the annual “Liars Contest”--where folks get up and tell outlandish stories, always funny. Michael won that contest several times in a row--so much that he was asked, I’m told, NOT to enter so someone else might have a chance to win. Very cool.

Michael led worship for me on many occasions as a guest preacher. I was always as mesmerized by him as everyone else. And jealous that I didn’t possess his skill. He led youth retreats for me when I worked with the conference youth. Young people, especially, gravitated to Michael--that, in itself, is a rare gift.

We were also kindred spirits in how we understood the faith and the church. I think it’s safe to say that we both had a “lover’s quarrel” with the church at times and sought ways to make her stronger. I always loved him for that.

Michael was your pastor at one time and I know how much you loved him. He was pretty easy to love and I know he loved you, too. I remember Rick Osgood’s service as Michael assisted us with it. They were such good friends and Michael was able to capture Rick’s enthusiasm and spirit in that memorial with the catchphrase Rick used a lot to describe something that impressed him - ”That’s really cool”. He found a way to make us all feel better about Rick’s death--a way to make us grateful we had known him.

Today I can’t help but think exactly the same way about Michael. Kurt Vonnegut was one of our nation’s greatest writers. Vonnegut was a “free thinker” and not known as a person of faith. But in one essay he wrote years ago he was describing a man he knew and this is how he described him: “whenever he was near you he just made you feel better about yourself and the world around you. When he was around it was as if someone, somewhere out there, wanted you to like it here.”

Whenever I was around Michael, it was as if someone, somewhere out there, wanted me to like it here. We will all miss him. Rest in peace, dear friend.

 

PEACE

Jim
 

More reflections on Cuba

The faith of the people we encountered was very strong. It was evident in the worship services and the Bible study I conducted (for 500 people) that the Christians in Cuba take their faith very seriously. The entire team remarked on this when new were able to sit together to talk about the things we saw and heard each day.

As I step back to think about it, I believe there is a reason they seem to be more passionate about their faith and worship than we do—I believe it has to do with their needs. With an average salary of $30 a month and meager subsidies from the government, it is natural to be more dependent on God. This has been true of Christianity from the beginning. Those who seemed to have the deepest faith are the ones who had very little or next to nothing in the way of material goods. In their poverty—maybe even in their desperation—faith in God was the oasis in the desert and the place where one could have hope.

 Photo: Raquel Perez

Photo: Raquel Perez

What I’m about to say may sting, but in the United States where mainline churches are struggling to survive against an increasingly secular culture, and in Europe where the worship attendance now hovers around 6%, the factor listed above for Cuba, namely need, isn’t felt here in the same way. To put it another way, most of us are blessed to meet our own needs. The level of poverty here is very small compared to Cuba and other places like it. And because we feel confident to meet our own needs, we feel less compelled to lean on God. People like us have the power to manufacture our own hope.

Please don’t take this as “America bashing”. It isn’t. It is merely an observation of how faith in God is lived out in two, very different places. I tend to believe that when God equips certain people or nations like us that we have a unique responsibility to reach out and help. We have been blessed in order to become a blessing to others. Our peculiar sin isn’t found in the fact that we have things. Our peculiar sin is that we have allowed the “things” to control us—the quest for them.

I think the old story of Samson is instructive for us. Samson was undeniably a person of great strength—whose strength came from the Lord. Only when he forgot and allowed another to “steal” his strength (by cutting his hair) did he recognize his failure. To press the analogy, our “hair” might just be our wealth. Only when we recognize it as a gift from God and meant to be shared is it sanctified. And only then can we share our Cuban friends' recognition of our own dependence on God.

It’s certainly worth pondering.

 

Peace

Jim
 

Cuba Mission trip

 
 The Team on the Malecon

The Team on the Malecon

 

Your Cuba mission team arrived back safely in Nashville on Friday night. Over the course of time we will find ways to share with you what we learned, what we saw, what needs there are that we, as a congregation, might address. It’s very important to us that you know as much as possible because we believe that there is ample reason to begin a long-term partnership with our brothers and sister of the Vedado Methodist Church.

There would be no way to share everything with you in one article so allow me to give you just a few impressions.

 A Mission Church

A Mission Church

Methodism is very strong in Cuba. There are 450 Methodist Churches in Cuba of various sizes. For instance, the Vedado Church worships about 1800 people a week. Other churches may worship 30. But in addition to those 450 churches, there are another 800 “mission churches”. A mission church is a “house” church. A local pastor will start a church in their own home. These homes are small, but a space is carved out for them to worship maybe twenty or thirty. When a mission church has grown to the 30 to 50 size and sustained it for a few years, they are then allowed to build a church.

I share this first because evangelism—bringing people into a relationship with Jesus Christ—is why they exist. Yes, there are other programs and ministries, but their primary task is to share Jesus. Do you remember my challenge to you at about this time last year?? If each one of us at Belle Meade UMC would reach out and disciple just one other person, our church would be transformed. That challenge stands. Did you attempt to bring others to church last year??

I was blessed to preach one service and teach one Bible Study. The worship service had 800 people. Worship at Vedado is more closely akin to a Pentecostal/ Holiness service than what we would typically expect in an American Methodist Church. Their worship is much louder and features a lot of high energy music. Pastor Lester Fernandez, our host, preaches for about 45 minutes—and he preaches 9 services a week.

I had a wonderful interpreter to assist me. Yes, I preached a 45 minute sermon—maybe I’ll try that here next Sunday. It was a challenge to have someone translate, but we developed a “cadence” of our own and she was so good, it was a smooth experience. Other than the fact that I am not from the Pentecostal experience and so my sermon was, shall we say, somewhat less energetic than they are accustomed.

The Bible study had 500 people and that experience was even better for me because there was interaction between us.

 Reb Ferrell addresses the Vedado Methodist Church

Reb Ferrell addresses the Vedado Methodist Church

Our team was truly blessed to experience Cuba in this way—not as tourists, but as partners in ministry. We will share more with you in the days to come. For now, be thinking about whether you might like to be part of the next team to Cuba. We haven’t made any firm decisions, but we are thinking that every other year would be ideal.

Last thing—If the Vedado Church stresses nothing else, they stress the value of prayer. They are praying for our congregation. They have now received us as a partner. We will do the same and we will pray for their mission and ministry in and around Havana.

PEACE

Jim