Pastor Tom

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17 8 10 Getting to the Core

Getting to the Core

Are you looking to begin a Christian life? Do you need to brush up on the basics? Do you want to find your ministry? Who is Jesus and why did he die? Why and how should I pray? Who is the Holy Spirit and what does he do? Why and how can I share my faith? What about the church? Does God guide people today? The core classes of HUMC are designed to answer these basic questions about the meaning of life. As we make disciples, we want each one to have this firm foundation in their spiritual journey. Our core classes form the basis for the compassionate community we are building. They feed our mission.

Class 101: Discover the Christian Life is where the journey begins. The basic text is The Faith-Sharing New Testament along with materials that I have written. This class introduces the Gospel plan of salvation, Baptism, Holy Communion, and United Methodist beliefs and practices. Participants are prepared for baptism and reception into the covenant of membership. This is the beginning of a lifelong spiritual journey with Jesus Christ. We’ll be offering this class three times each year. The next will be Sunday, September 17. It starts with lunch after church then the seminar.

Class 201: Spiritual Maturity focuses on Christian living and devotion. Through a deeper study of the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer, participants grasp the ethics of the faith: how we should act toward God and our neighbors. They learn to develop a daily Christian spirituality. The basic text is Ten Words, Two Signs, and One Prayer: Core Practices of the Christian Faith by Timothy C. Tennant. I have also written a study booklet for each session. This class lasts 4 weeks and will be offered twice yearly. Our next Class 201 will be October 5, 12, 19, 26—Thursday nights from 7- 8 PM. Mike Morley and I will lead this class.

Class 301: Discover Your Spiritual Gifts. Who is the Holy Spirit? What does he do? What are the fruits of the Spirit? How can I find my gifts and my ministry? Together we’ll read and study The Holy Spirit by Billy Graham along with a Spiritual Gifts Inventory and a study guide that I have written. Everyone will gain a basic understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit and discover likely places God wants them to serve in the church and community. This class lasts 4 weeks and will be offered twice yearly. Our next class 301 will be November 2, 9, 16, 30. Thursdays from 10 AM to 11 AM. Glenn Betts and I will lead this class.

Class 401 Discovering a Life That Matters. How can I live an effective Christian life? A victorious life over sin and negative habits? How can I share my faith? How can we care for and nurture new Christians? This class prepares for a life of personal mission and witness in the church. The fruit of this mission will lead to filling up the next class 101 and our cycle will repeat. Our text is Christian Life and Witness an acclaimed training course developed by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. This class lasts 4 weeks and will be offered twice yearly. Our next class 401 will be January, details to be announced!

Every church needs to have an intentional process for developing attendees into fully-devoted followers of Christ. In the core classes, members will connect more deeply with Christ and his church; grow in knowledge and grace and be equipped to serve others. I hope to meet you in one this year!

Connect, Grow, Serve!

Pastor Tom Anderson

17 08 03 Attendance Matters

Attendance Matters

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Statistics show church attendance in America to be in decline. Summer attendance here at HUMC illustrates it. Last July average attendance was 184. This July average attendance was 167. It is curious since HUMC added 23 new members so far this year.

The number one cause of decline in church attendance is that members attend less frequently than they did in the past. If frequency drops, then average attendance follows. For example if a church of 200 members attend every week, the average is obviously 200. But if one-half of those members miss only one out of four weeks the average drops to 175. No members have left. Everyone is still relatively active but attendance declined 12 percent because half the members made a slight change in their attendance behavior. We don’t notice it when someone who comes four times a month drops to three or even when a bi-monthly attender goes to once a month.

The issue here is not the loss of members but waning commitment. But here is some good news: yearly worship attendance in America is about 300 million—far above the combined total for every kind of sports event (including the Detroit Lions!). There are hundreds of reasons why members don’t come to worship. It’s fair at this point to put the pastor and worship leaders in the evaluation spotlight.

I believe it’s also productive to work the positive side and ask why members come to worship. Here’s a list of some reasons why. Put a checkmark on the ones that are most personally significant to you:

 

1. Dispels loneliness

2. Brings hope

3. Counters self-centeredness

4. Reminds you of important values you tend to forget

5. Strengthens courage

6. Gives you the opportunity to express thanksgiving

7. Brings you a sense of forgiveness

8. Renews your faith

9. Empowers creativity

10. Helps you to see reality more clearly

11. Increases feelings of self-worth

12. Helps you to make positive changes in your life

 

John Wesley counselled a despondent farmer who could not handle the worries of his life. Wesley pointed to a cow in the field and asked the farmer why he thought the cow was looking over the stone fence. The man shrugged his shoulders and Wesley said, “She is looking over the wall because she can’t see through it.” Smart cow! People come to worship to gain Holy Spirit perspective on life, to look over the barriers they can’t see through.

God believes worship is crucial to human life—he spent all of Exodus 25-40 designing the worship life of Israel in precise detail. Jesus set the example never missing a Sabbath—even when the Pharisees led the service. He said the Father is seeking people to worship him in spirit and in truth. If God planned it and God exemplified it for us, then it’s got to be good!

Commit to increase the worship frequency of our members--starting with ourselves.

I love Sunday. I get up with anticipation each week to meet with my church family and glorify God together. I pray each of us would say with enthusiasm, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Psalm 122:1)

 

Connect, Grow, Serve!

Pastor Tom Anderson

17 7 18 Renewing Our Baptism

Renewing Our Baptism

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The plains of Israel’s Negev desert are bleak and raw in a January wind. Some years ago I found myself there in a cold rain, whipped horizontally across the terrain. My task was to help my team mates dig out a large fourth century home nicely preserved under 1600 years of sand. It was a home in a Christian city in the desert. These ancients figured out how to collect water, grow food and support a city of over 5000 on less than 15 inches of rainfall a year. That explains why the Israeli government was so interested to sponsor this archeological dig. They wanted to know how they managed to thrive in such harsh conditions.

The ancient town was named Nitzana and prominently feature three large Byzantine-era churches. The beautiful mosaic floors of these churches where perfectly preserved by the sands of time. An early team had even unearthed a copy of the Gospel of John. Something else struck me about these ancient churches: each one featured a large baptistery. Most of them were shaped like a cross with steps in them so that baptismal candidates could step down into the waters, be immersed and then walk out the other side of the cross into newness of life! Wow. What a spectacular image. Other baptisteries were round.

Baptism is God’s gift to us. God himself designed and planned this very special act of worship for his people to begin the life of faith in Christ. Jesus commanded baptism and every believer should be baptized except in the most extreme circumstances. Baptism incorporates us into the Church, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Cor. 12:13) and “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27-28) Baptism is an act of grace on God’s part wherein he adopts us into his family. Baptism is a response of faith and thanksgiving on our part wherein we repent of our sins and pledge ourselves to Christian life led by the Holy Spirit.

United Methodists baptize in one of two common styles. Most frequently we baptize by sprinkling water on the candidates’ head. This mode brings to mind God’s beautiful promise from Ezekiel 36:25, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.”

A second common way of baptism is by immersion in a pool. This mode richly symbolizes death and rebirth. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. “ (Romans 6:4) Our United Methodist book of worship advises: “congregations should be prepared to honor requests for baptism in any of these modes.”

What if we were prepared to offer immersion? Imagine an immersion baptism on the patio off our worship center. The worship team has put on its wish list a portable baptistery that can easily be stored in a closet when not in use. It’s an opportunity to renew the baptismal practice of the early church and bring glory to God in our worship.

In Hope and Confidence,

Pastor Tom Anderson

17 7 11 Caregivers

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Thirty seven years ago this August I stood before the altar at First United Methodist Church in Dearborn and pledged to God that I would love Karen for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer; and in sickness and in health. I was 22 years old and I had no idea what I was getting into. I did not dream that Karen would be the one to care for my mother in her temporary disability. For the last 3 weeks Karen has been living and caring for my parents in Chelsea as mom heals from a second round of broken bones. Indeed, she has given more than 5 weeks of care to them in this year. All I can say is I married the right woman. Proverbs 31:10 has it right, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.”

I could not be serving you if Karen were not holding up my family with her bare hands. Again Proverbs 31:17, “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.” If she seems scarce in these parts it’s because she is amply present to our parents, Roberta and Ed Anderson in Chelsea. Many of you have been praying for mom and for that I am grateful. She is making progress and we hope to hand off to a local home care agency for mom’s final lap in the healing process. From that point we prepare for more change as they are planning to move in an apartment when one becomes available in their retirement community. Mom has taken to calling her “St. Karen” and so she is.

There are 44.4 million Americans who are serving as caregivers in their families. Sixty percent are women and the balance are men. Thirty-two percent of these caregivers are averaging upwards of 62 hours per week of care to family members. Such an undertaking requires a vast reservoir of patience, forbearance, perseverance, self-sacrifice and heart. If you have such a care-giver in your family, rejoice and give thanks. If you are that care-giver, God bless you!

God is of course the greatest of caregivers. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Perhaps there is no better word to capture God’s caregiving than that—“shepherd.” Isaiah spoke of him, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11) The shepherd image speaks of nurturing, mercy, compassion and sanctuary.

We begin our lives being cared for—completely dependent on the ministrations of our parents. Young adulthood is often care free—we live in imagined self-sufficiency, neither being cared for nor caring much for others. This will not be long for all of us acquire people in our families and our lives who need our caring. And nearly all of us will finish our days being cared for by others.

To truly be a caregiver you need to give yourself away. A Shakespeare sonnet says, “To give away yourself keeps yourself still, and you must live drawn by your own sweet skill.” The stillness and peace we most desire and the deepest wells of life’s meaning reside in the practice of caregiving. For it is in giving that we receive. The truest meaning of life is to care.

 

In Hope and Confidence,

Pastor Tom Anderson

July 11,2017

17 6 22 The Meaning of Marriage Book Review

Book Review: The Meaning of Marriage

By Tim and Kathy Keller (Riverhead Books: New York 2011) 325pp

 

If you had a congregation full of young adult single professionals in Manhattan would you preach a series of sermons on marriage? Best-selling author and Pastor Tim Keller did. The series turned out to be wildly popular in the 6000 member Redeemer Presbyterian church. Seventy five percent of this congregation are single—making it one of a kind in American church life. Keller and his wife Kathy then adapted the sermons into a book, The Meaning of Marriage.

Keller writes, “My main rationale was that single people today need a brutally realistic yet glorious vision of what marriage is and can be…my primary goal is to give both married and single people a vision for what marriage is according to the Bible.” Keller and his wife Kathy have been married 37 years. He founded Redeemer Presbyterian church in New York City beginning in 1989.

While keeping singles in his mind, Keller writes, “This book is for those spouses who have discovered how challenging day-to-day marriage is and who are searching for practical resources to survive the sometimes overwhelming ‘fiery trials’ of matrimony and to grow through them.” Whereas the Kellers do draw upon personal experience and social science data, they declare in the introduction that “this is a book about the Bible.” Other modern marriage manuals become dated resources with the passing years. In the Bible you have teaching that has been tested by millions of people over the centuries in multiple cultures. There is no other enduring resource for marriage like it.

The book is laid out to explore Paul’s words on marriage in Ephesians 5:18-33. The chapter titles detail the journey the reader takes: “The Secret of Marriage”, “The Power for Marriage”, “The Essence of Marriage”, “The Mission of Marriage”, “Loving the Stranger”, “Embracing the Other”, “Singleness and Marriage”, and “Sex and Marriage’. Along the way passages from Genesis, the Gospels and the letters of Paul illuminate matrimony. Many Christians are unaware of the unified voice of the scriptures on Christian marriage and this book will give readers a firm foundation for understanding the uniquely Christian view of this sacred covenant.

Some parts of the Biblical teaching covered by the Kellers are hotly debated—most notably gender roles within marriage. The Kellers state their positions clearly. Though I found myself wanting to quibble some points here, I can say that everyone can profit from reading this section of the book. Taken as a whole this is a book to give to your single adult children, to newlyweds and to those mature Christian couples who never really thought about the grandeur of the enterprise of Christian marriage they entered into years ago.

In Hope and Confidence,

Pastor Tom

17 6 14 The Mission of the Lord's Prayer

The Mission of the Lord’s Prayer
 

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

Jesus Christ gave us our mission when he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:18). Our mission field includes the ten mile radius around Highland United Methodist Church, home to approximately 62,000 people. Eighty percent of these are unchurched. I have met some of them. Recently at a funeral in Milford, a little girl spotted my Bible and said, “What is that?” “It’s a Bible,” I responded. She came back, “What is a Bible?”

The unchurched of our neighborhood don’t know what a cross is—except as an item of jewelry, or a Bible, or a church. They do not know God or Jesus. If I am to win this little girl to faith in Christ, I’m going to have to start with basic information in words she can understand.

Which brings me to the Lord’s Prayer. We’ve adopted a new version of it for worship on Sundays. We did this for mission. It’s important that our prayers be understood by the people we are trying to reach. It’s crucial that we speak in the language commonly used by the people in our neighborhood. The Lord’s Prayer is essential to teach new believers and a fundamental of Biblical worship.

The Prayer was originally spoken by Jesus in Aramaic—the language of Palestine in his day. Matthew and Luke rendered the prayer into Greek. All English translations are based on the New Testament Greek. For centuries two major English versions of the prayer were used, one from the King James Bible dating from 1611 and the other from the Book of Common Prayer published in 1668. The 1668 Book of Common Prayer version is the one most church people are familiar with. The version we are introducing was produced in 1985 by an international consultation of scholars representing all the major denominations: Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox. Their goal was simple: produce a contemporary version that would honor the traditional form, eliminate misunderstandings and provide a prayer that all churches could pray together.

Language changes. No one uses “thee” anymore and this can be confusing to a non-believer. It is a simple thing to render this with a contemporary “you”. The word “hallowed” was kept because it is still in use today as in “hallowed ground” or “hallowed memory” and there is no other available synonym. “Trespasses” is replaced by “sin.” “Sin” is the word that Luke used in his gospel. (Lk 11:4) “Sin” is also unmistakable and requires no explanation unlike “debt” or “trespass”.

The phrase “Lead us not into temptation” causes confusion and misunderstanding. The Greek word here is peirasmos and two errors are to be avoided when translating it. One is to believe that God would entice people to sin. (See James 1:13) The second is to limit its meaning to situations of being lured into sin. Peirasmos refers broadly to circumstances of extreme suffering and persecution that might cause one to renounce his faith. “Trial” is a more accurate word capturing the original meaning and being far more accessible to the unchurched. In 1668 “temptation” had this broader meaning but in 2017 it means exclusively the enticement to sin. The phrase “Save us from the time of trial” requires no explanation and restores Jesus’ original meaning lost to modern ears unaware of language shifts since 1668.

Change is hard. I am not here to serve me. I am here to serve my King and bring his Gospel to the 80% of my neighbors who don’t know him. I have got to teach myself to speak their language.

In Hope and Confidence,

Pastor Tom

17 5 30 Let’s Make a Plan

Let’s Make a Plan

On Saturday, June 24 we will gather as a church family for a day of Strategic planning. The purpose of planning is action. Action is not about pressing people to spend more time at church. It is about helping people invest their God-given gifts and talents in the world. Artist William Holman Hunt painted the famous scene of Jesus standing at the door knocking a century ago. His piece proved to be enduringly popular, often been reproduced and re-painted by others. A common interpretation of the image is that Jesus is waiting at the door of our hearts to enter our lives. But there is another way to understand the picture: let’s say the door is to the church and Jesus is knocking and calling to the members to come out and meet him in the mission field. Jesus is calling to us to share our faith and address the hurts and the hopes with the world.

By nature we all drift towards an inward focus—a preoccupation with our own immediate cares and concerns. Strategic planning is an intentional effort to re-focus ourselves on outward mission.

Where are we headed? Yogi Berra said it, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll wind up someplace else.” The church that looks to the future sees God. God goes before our church, inviting us to the future that he has promised and prepared for us. Asking this question of ourselves is the first step in taking up God’s invitation.

What kind of future are we building? Effective planning is concerned with the destiny of our families, our friends and the many people who will be helped by our church in years to come. There is a direct correlation between the strength of a church and the quality of life in the surrounding community. We should approach planning with a theology of service, not survival. Our concern should not be maintenance but advancing the cause of Christ in the world.

What are our strengths and gifts as a congregation? Planning is not about naming your problems and lamenting your insufficiencies. That leads only to depression and conflict. Planning is about naming and claiming your strengths, your spiritual gifts and your competencies. In this way we affirm what God has done and is doing among us. The art of strategic planning is to do better what we do best. Only in this way do we begin with God.

What is God calling us to accomplish in mission? The key word is “accomplish.” A good plan doesn’t aim at producing activity and busyness but accomplishment and achievement for God. Winston Churchill said, “A good plan is necessary but you should occasionally look at the results.” The day of mission is at hand in Oakland County. The data is clear that some 80 percent of our population is un-churched. Of the people we meet and interact with every day it is safe to assume most don’t attend church and neither did their parents or grandparents. It is crucial to our planning to rediscover that we are living in the mission field. Only then can we begin to adopt the habits and practices of a missionary church. Jesus is knocking at our door and he is calling to us to come and join him on the mission field!

 

In hope and confidence,

Pastor Tom

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