A bi-monthly e-mail letter from agency officers and staff of the General Commission on UM Men
Lord, let it begin with me
By Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr.
We must take a serious look at ourselves and our current reality. How committed are we to God’s mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?”
Do we truly want to be fruitful and faithful?
I don’t doubt our work ethic at all. We are a hard-working group of Christians. If working hard could help us make disciples and transform this world, those two goals would have been accomplished sometime in the past. God knows we’ve tried hard to pull ourselves out of this downward spiral in the United States.
Many have been praying for God to do a new thing among us. If that “new thing” is to happen it will only have a lasting effect if it is what Robert Quinn calls a “deep change.” Quinn writes to us in his book entitled by that name, Deep Change.
“There is an important link between deep change at the personal level and deep change at the organizational level. To make deep personal change is to develop a new paradigm, a new self that is effectively aligned with today's realities.
“This can occur only if we are willing to journey into unknown territory and confront the wicked problems we encounter.
“This journey does not follow the assumptions of rational planning. The objective may not be clear and the path to it is not paved with familiar procedures. This tortuous journey requires that we leave our comfort zone and step outside our normal roles. In doing so, we learn the paradoxical lesson that we can change the world only by changing ourselves."
Therefore, Quinn would say that the answer to the question, “Are we committed to making disciples?” is not the right question. The right question is, “Are we personally committed to ‘deep change’?”
Only after a significant number of us are willing to practice “deep change” inwardly can we expect deep change within the UMC.
Quinn speaks to us in a time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. All of the tried and true ways are failing us. Our church is no longer the center of the community. The laws of the land no longer give the church “favored nation status.”
Today, the Christian Church finds itself in a world with values more in common with the first century Mediterranean world when those practicing the faith were punished, than with the values of the 1950s when the church was the center of U.S. communities.
Our values often conflict with the values of our communities and the world in which we live. How do we make disciples in this kind of climate?
If there ever was a time, in which we needed spiritual power it is today. So, I say, “Dear Lord, let it begin with me!”
Within the commission, we are pushing hard to get men to look inward at their relationship with Jesus.
Do not misunderstand me. This is not a solo walk. This will only happen within a community of similarly committed men.
No wonder Jesus’ first stop on His missionary journey was along the seashore to recruit others. As we move through the season of Advent why not use these four weeks to be in prayer about inward transformation that could be the beginning of a journey to lead us through the New Year.
We have tried everything else; why not, “Let it begin with me!”
Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr., president
General Commission on UM Men
The heart of Christmas
By Bishop Gary Mueller
Since it’s true, I’ll just go ahead and admit it. I am a Christmas geek.
I love this time of the year with all the decorations, parties, carols and just about anything and everything Christmas, except the commercialization, of course.
Which means I once again will enjoy it all without any guilt whatsoever. And I hope you will too.
However, in my quieter moments, I wonder whether my delight with all things Christmas camouflages what matters most about Christmas.
That’s why I hope you will join me in doing something essential and urgent in these days leading up to Christmas––Get to the heart of Christmas.
Here is heart of Christmas: For reasons we can never begin to comprehend, God decided to overlook all our sin and become one of us in order to give us what we absolutely need, but can never get on our own––salvation. In other words, God loves us so much God doesn’t turn away from us. God embraces us, and is deeply involved in our lives.
So why does this matter?
The heart of Christmas changes everything. It affects how you see yourself, what matters most to you, and how you deal with others. It affects the ways you spend your money, how you vote, and how you feel about your life.
If you let Christmas take root in your heart, it will shape your life forever.
But, this can only happen if you focus more on the baby Jesus in the manger than you do on all the wonderful things that accompany the season.
So, the question you have to answer is, “How serious are you about the heart of Christmas?”
This is not a question about how enmeshed you are in the Christmas frenzy, or how exhausted you are when the family leaves or the decorations come down. It’s not a question about how sick you are of hearing “Santa Baby” or how depressed you are when it’s time to pay off the credit card.
May the reality of the incarnation that is the baby Jesus who has come to us as one of us live in your heart –– now and forever.
Bishop Gary Mueller, vice president
General Commission on UM Men
Where is our attention?
By Gil Hanke
Recently my wife and I received an upgrade on our cable T.V. The upgrade came with new equipment and a 3-step set of instructions.
This became an ordeal, as one piece of the equipment did not communicate with the others. The company sent us new equipment, but the same issue continued.
I sent a text to the company saying I was ready to give up. A technician replied: “Please do not give up; I will give you all my attention to this problem.”
The problem was solved a few minutes later.
Some of the statistics for local churches are scary. There is a disconnect between a large portion of the population who have no relationship with Christ and churches with shrinking congregations.
There is a disconnect between churches who focus only on their members while there are people within 200 yards of the church who are in need.
I am not suggesting that the revival of the UMC can be achieved by following three simple steps. What I am suggesting is that we not give up, but give all our collective attention to the core value of our faith.
There is not a magic bullet or a pill of all wisdom and knowledge. There is no single solution for every church in our connection. But, we need to take a serious look at all the commands Jesus gave his disciples. There only two: “Love God with everything you’ve got”; and “Love everybody else.”
I have a feeling that the technician with whom I was texting was helping several other customers, and when he or she realized I was giving up, the technician concentrated on just one customer and one issue.
Here are the lessons I learned from that technician and from God.
With all the noise, seek silence. Read the part of Matthew about worrying about the future.
Concentrate on the task at hand. Is your church making disciples in a systematic manner? If the answer is not a resounding “yes,” then that is a good starting place.
We have resources that will enable you and your church to answer that key question with a resounding “yes.”
What ways you are showing your love of God by loving your neighbor? Need some clear measurable local mission ideas? Do you want to see what is working in other areas in churches like yours? We have examples and resources in this area as well.
What happens when you bring this up to the pastor and to the church, and they say, “Sounds like you need to lead us in all this.” We have leadership training available for you as well.
Here is what we cannot do. We cannot wait.
There are multiple examples in the Bible of people ––not acting ––waiting too long, and ––knowing what to do but not doing it.
Wesley stated we have just three general rules, one is a negative, and the other two are actions. “Do no harm,” “Do good (or as I like to say ‘for God’s sake do something’)” and “Stay in love with God by practicing the ordinances of God.”
Focus on the main thing, and remember, “You can’t make a disciple if you are not one. You can’t sell what you didn’t buy.”
We stand ready to help you and your church. Don’t wait to act; claim a future of active discipleship and mission.
Gil Hanke, general secretary
General Commission on UM Men
Scout Sunday 2018
By Larry Coppock
The recognition of youth and adult leaders is an important moment in the life of UM churches. Scout Sundays (February 11 for Boy Scouts and March 11 for Girl Scouts) are appropriate times to present awards.
More than 327,000 Boy Scouts grace the rooms, basements, and sanctuaries of 7,000 UM churches each week. They learn to live out the Scout oath and law. In addition, 128,000 adult leaders direct and support their activities at troop and pack meetings. These volunteers make enormous contributions to local churches and communities.
In addition to individual Eagle Scout and Gold Award projects, troop projects increase the value of church property and benefit underprivileged populations. These faithful servant leaders donate thousands of volunteer hours and they expect nothing in return. Inspiring stories about their efforts are highlighted quarterly in Scouting News.
So, what do we ask of you?
Take steps today to ensure that people engaged in these selfless acts receive appropriate recognition on Scout Sunday.
Awards to consider:
Good Samaritan Award. The award recognizes a young person between the ages of 6 and 30 who demonstrates the attributes of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37).
The Cross and Flame Award. The award recognizes adult leaders who have given exceptional service to young people.
The Shepherd Church Charter Recognition. An award presented to churches with outstanding youth-mentoring programs.
To download brochures for these awards, click here.
The plans you make today will make February 11 and March 11 very special.
We want to hear about your Scouting Ministry Sunday. Please send us a brief (one-paragraph) article and action photo for potential publication in Scouting News.
Larry W. Coppock, director of scouting and youth-serving agencies
General Commission on UM Men
Take the first step
By the Rev. Rick Vance
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But, the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
The Bible is full of examples of God calling people from normal activities to experience miraculous events. One such event was when God called shepherds to go witness the birth of the Christ child.
It is said, “The first step is always the hardest.”
As I reflect on this part of Luke’s account of the Advent story, I am amazed at the courage that it took for the shepherds to take the first step.
In spite of worrying about their sheep, they began a journey where they became the first witnesses to the miracle of the incarnation––the “Word made flesh.”
As you continue through this Advent season, I challenge you to reflect on several questions:
1. Have you heard God calling you to take a new first step?
2. How is that step leading you into a new or deeper relationship with God?
3. What frightens you about taking that step?
4. How will that first step facilitate the ministry God is calling you to do?
5. Will you take the step?
In Revelation 21:5, God tells John; “I am making everything new!”
These words are true for us as well.
The Rev. Dr. Rick Vance, director of men’s ministry
General Commission on UM Men
Called to discipleship
By Steve Nailor
Recently, I was invited to be the speaker for our Men’s District Communion Service. To prepare, I reflected on how I arrived at the position of serving God as the national president. I never dreamed that I would be leading a Communion service for the district, let alone as their national president.
Just as I was called, so each of us is called to make disciples for the transformation of the world.
We are not called to make more work for our pastors. We are called to help them create disciples. We want to work with them in the trenches with our men.
Creating disciples is hard work and it starts with you and me. It is difficult to support discipleship if you are not practicing discipleship yourself.
In the beginning, Jesus chose 12 disciples. Think about the men he chose. James and John, so hot tempered they were called the “sons of thunder.” Peter, impetuous, outspoken and when Jesus needed him the most, he denied him three times. Simon, a zealot terrorist, and Judas, who would betray him.
Why these 12?
They were not rich. They were not of high social standing. They were not well educated.
Why were they acceptable to Jesus?
They were ordinary men, but they were available and ready to learn. Matthew left his tax office, James and John left their fishing nets, and together they spent time with Jesus.
These 12 were willing to assume responsibility for ministry. They were willing to get involved and stay involved with people and to be taught by Jesus.
Are you available?
Will you leave your boat, your computer, your television set to follow him?
Finally, the disciples chose to spend time with one another. Yes, Jesus did the selecting. He chose those who were teachable, available, and willing to assume responsibility. But, spending time together through study and fellowship drew the men together.
I believe Christianity is caught, not taught.
A magnet cannot teach magnetism to a lump of iron. But if the two spend time together and the magnet rubs up against the iron, very soon you will have two magnets. It is the same with discipling. Men who are teachable, available, responsible and willing to spend time with others become examples and draw others to them.
During this Advent season of joy and celebration, remember there are families who have experienced loss. It can be difficult for them to find joy in the season.
People need others who will be with them and support them. God is always with us and we need to share His love and support with others.
Becoming a disciple means affecting others, especially during the holiday season.
Do others see you as a disciple?
If you asked them, what would they say?
Steve Nailor, president
National Association of Conference Presidents of UM Men
God’s plan for Christmas
By Jim Boesch
Am I the only one, or each year is it more difficult to battle with secularists to maintain a belief that Jesus Christ is the reason for the Christmas season?
As I look backward with my ever-waning memory, it seems that in the past 15 to 20 years this battle has demonstrably gotten out of hand.
I compare contemporary efforts to remove Jesus from Christmas with the centuries-old plan of God for the redemption of humankind as traced through the pages of the Old Testament.
Written hundreds of years before Christ was born in Bethlehem, the authors of the 39 books of the Old Testament told of the coming savior.
- In Genesis, He is the seed of the woman (3:15).
- In Exodus, He is the Lamb of God for sinners slain (see chapter 12).
- In Leviticus, He is our high priest (the whole book).
- In Numbers, He is the star out of Jacob (24:17).
- In Deuteronomy, He is the prophet like Moses (18:15).
- In Joshua, He is the captain of the Lord’s armies (5:13-15).
- In Judges, He is the angel of the Lord or the messenger of Jehovah (chapter 13).
- In Ruth, He is our kinsman-redeemer (Chapter 3).
- In Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Samuel 8:1-9).
- In Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, He is the sovereign Lord over all the kingdoms of the earth (entire books).
- In Job, He is our risen and returning redeemer (Job 19:25).
- In Psalms, He is the blessed man (Psalm 1), the son of man (Psalm 2), the crucified one (Psalm 22), the coming one (Psalm 24), the reigning one (Psalm 72).
- In Proverbs, He is wisdom (Chapter 14).
- In Ecclesiastes, He is the forgotten wise man (9:14-15).
- In Song of Solomon, He is my beloved (2:16).
- In Isaiah, He is our suffering substitute (Chapter 7).
- In Jeremiah, He is the Lord, our righteousness (23:6).
- In Lamentations, He is the man of sorrows who weeps for His people (l:12-18).
- In Ezekiel, He is the glory of God (1:28).
- In Daniel, He is the smiting stone (2:34) and the companion in the furnace of fire and the den of lions (3:24-25; 6:22).
- In Hosea, He is David’s greater king (3:5).
- In Joel, He is the Hope of His people (3:16).
- In Amos, He is the rescuer of Israel (3:12).
- In Obadiah, He is the deliverer upon Mount Zion (verse 17).
- In Jonah, He is the buried and risen savior (compare Matthew 12:40).
- In Micah, He is the everlasting God born in Bethlehem (5:2).
- In Nahum, He is our stronghold in the day of wrath (1:7).
- In Habakkuk, He is the anchor of our faith (2:4).
- In Zephaniah, He is in the midst for judgment and cleansing (3:5,15).
- In Haggai, He is Lord of presence and power (1:13).
- In Zechariah, He is the smitten shepherd (13:7).
- In Malachi He is the Sun of righteousness (4:2).
While it took more than 4,000 years to unfold, God’s plan came alive at the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I know it is through the fruition of His plan that I have been given my redemption and salvation.
We will all be redeemed and saved again tomorrow morning and every morning when we choose to believe and accept Him.
So, this Christmas, consider the lessons from His Word and say with resolve: “Merry Christmas” to all believers and thanks be to God for His plan!
*Note: Parts of this writing come from a Max Lucado devotion.
Jim Boesch, deployed staff
General Commission on UM Men
Are we ‘the other brother’?
By Mark Dehority
In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells us the parable of the prodigal son and his brother. The prodigal son takes his inheritance early, moves to a foreign land, squanders it and returns home empty-handed. His father welcomes him home and starts a celebration. His older brothers not happy.
The older brother has no sympathy for his prodigal brother. We could hear him say, “He made his bed, let him lay in it. Why should I give part of my share to my brother who wasted his share? He had the same opportunities I did and wasted them.”
The older brother did everything expected. He lived in a way that met his father's expectations.. He deserves a reward for his efforts.
I don't believe he understands his own brokenness or the wishes of his father.
Many of us are prodigals. I took the gifts God gave me and for most of my life spent them in the secular world. The only kingdom I built was the kingdom of my own.
The Father welcomed me home, and most of the brothers in my life welcomed me.
As I healed and put my priorities in order I started to feel like the other brother. I have what I need. I have taken care of me and mine. This started to affect my attitude about other broken people.
The world is full of prodigals who have wasted God's gifts. How should they be welcomed when they turn back to God and to his church?
Prodigals are broken people at the time they come to terms with their choices. How are they welcomed by our churches and families?
How many of us act like the older brother when it is time to forgive and welcome the broken? Our church is full of people who have played by the rules and lived lives like the “older brother.” What is God's task for them? How does God want them to welcome the broken?
Are the broken in our community comfortable coming to a church of “other brothers?” Do we help their Father welcome them home?
Please consider the last words of the parable. As the father addresses the other son, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But, we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
Who is the prodigal, the brother and the Father?
Mark Dehority, deployed staff
General Commission on UM Men