Category Archive: Latest from the MethoBlogoSphere

Nov 24 2014

100 Godly Men: My Hero, Ezra

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This blog does not officially begin until January 1, 2015. However, I thought I would periodically recycle some old devotions here until that time. Enjoy.

Ezra 7:6 – this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.

Ezra 7:9-10 – He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. [10] For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

You may not know much about Ezra, though you’ve probably heard of him. He has a book of the Old Testament named after him. For me, he exemplifies much of what I believe my own purpose is as a pastor. More than that, however, I believe he’s a model for all Christians.

Ezra was a descendent of Moses’ brother, Aaron, the chief priest. Ezra was a teacher, we’re told, who was well versed in the Law of Moses (Ezra 7:6). The end of verse 9 tells us that the hand of God was on Ezra. Why? Because, according to verse 10, Ezra “devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord as well as to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.”

In other words, Ezra passionately STUDIED God’s Word, LIVED God’s Word, and TAUGHT God’s Word to  others.

A pastor, or any Christian for that matter, must first STUDY God’s Word. This is obvious. This is where the pump is primed and fresh water is poured into the soul. This is where the renewing of the mind takes place so that it will become fertile ground for transformation later.

This leads to the next point – LIVING God’s Word. If you don’t believe the teachings of God’s Word and are not practicing it’s laws and principles each day, then one might ask why you are studying it in the first place. The Word of God makes us wise for salvation, teaches us, rebukes us, corrects us, trains us in righteousness so that we may become thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15-17). We don’t study it to win Bible trivia contests or to impress our congregations. We study it so that we might become more and more like Christ.

But Ezra did more than study it and live it – He TAUGHT it. He passed along his knowledge to others. He added value to their lives from what he learned. And it’s the fact that he did faithfully study it and live it (or practice it) that brought credibility and integrity to his teaching. You see, the goal of any disciple of Jesus Christ is to reproduce himself in the lives of others. This is accomplished through learning what it means to be a disciple of Christ, faithfully living that calling out each day, and then passing it along to others. It’s what I call “pouring your life into another person.” Jesus put it this way in the gospel of John,

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)

In a sense, we die to ourselves as we diligently study God’s Word, conform ourselves to it’s standards, and pass it along to others – even at personal cost. But any sacrifice offered is more than worth it because, as Jesus put it, it produces many seeds.

How do we pass along God’s Word to others? This can be done in a variety of ways. You can teach others God’s Word from the pulpit, in a classroom, in a hospital room, in a counseling session, over lunch with a friend, around the family table at breakfast or dinner, or written correspondence. The list could go on and on.

Finally, I love how Ezra did all of this. The text says he devoted himself to it. He gave his life to it. He was committed to God’s Word in all of its life-transforming fullness. And because he was so devoted, we learn that God’s hand was on him. God has appointed his Word as a primary means of grace (as it works with his Spirit) whereby we are enabled to intimately know God and his Son Jesus Christ, know about the character, attributes, and works of God, learn how to love and serve God, discover how to become more Christlike in our daily lives, as well as how to spend eternity with him.

God’s Word: Know It – Live It – Teach It To Others.

Not a bad purpose statement for all of us. I want to be like Ezra. How about you?

Grace and Truth,

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Nov 24 2014

Soul Rain ... Kelli Sorg: Monday Morning Mindset – Thanksgiving, grace and creativity

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Whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything takes away from it. Ecclesiastes 3:14 Kelli: A new idea for me, a creative outpouring expressed in words, music or wool is not original to me. It … Continue reading

The post Monday Morning Mindset – Thanksgiving, grace and creativity appeared first on Soul Rain ... Kelli Sorg.

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Nov 24 2014

thoughtfulpastor: A Stress Free Christmas: Five Ways to Keep Santa in the Season

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Happy holiday time has arrived. Way too many folks suffer unnecessary stress during this time, mainly because of a lack of focus on the really important center, which is, of course, Santa, gifts, family and fun.

However, we all face multiple distractions which dilute the reasons for the season. So, below, you will five suggestions that, faithfully followed, will guarantee a relaxed, fun Christmas celebration free of distraction.


Choose carefully the kinds of seasonal music surrounding you and your loved ones. Again, the Holidays are a season of happiness, family, joy and gifts. Accompanying music should be full of good cheer, packed with expectations of stuff and fun. Things like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “White Christmas” and “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” are highly encouraged.

Under no conditions should you listen to such deeply melancholy songs as “Mary Did You Know” or, God forbid, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” “O Come All Ye Faithful” is to be avoided at all costs. “Silent Night” is marginally OK as long as it is accompanied by snow, lots of snow, which quite well obscures any other nuances in the song.

Please, above all,  do not even consider listening to Handel’s Messiah. Let’s face it,  titles like “For Behold, Darkness Shall Cover the Earth,” “The People that Walked in Darkness,” or “He Was Cut Off Out of the Land of the Living” have no place in happy Christmas Celebrations.


Christmas decor ideally reflects the cheer and happiness of the season. Frolicking reindeer, dancing Santas, fluffy geese, picturesque villages with trains (trains are seriously trendy) running through them–those are good choices. Snow should be everywhere, since a white Christmas is the most hoped for goal. Load up on nutcrackers–they point directly to the real meaning of Christmas: gifts and more gifts. A star is OK on top of the tree but a big, fancy bow representing the hope of many beautifully wrapped boxes is far, far preferable.

If you must display a nativity scene, make sure that Mary and Joseph look clean and well nourished, with expensive robes draping them. Baby Jesus should be wrapped in the best. The manger/crib should be comfortable, padded, and artistically carved.

Don’t worry about biblical accuracy with your nativity scene, so showcase the family in a remote shack rather than in the bosom of the household as all first century stables were. Don’t even hint at the idea that relatives who had already filled their guest quarters would under no conditions send a young, pregnant woman out to birth a baby alone.  Ignore the fact that the wise men showed up a year or two later and were most definitely not present at or near the birth. A giant benevolent-looking Santa overlooking the nativity would be a nice touch.


Fill the weeks leading to Christmas with parties, shopping, cooking as much highly-sugared food as possible, visits to Santa, and hints of gifts. Watch lots of family, Santa-themed TV shows, especially ones that affirm how real Santa is or could be if people would believe properly.

Talk about Santa daily, reminding children that Santa knows EVERYTHING. Use that omniscience to enforce good behavior for children because the pressure of all the parties and other activities, fueled by excess sugar and alcohol, makes it impossible for parents to be good disciplinarians.

Emphasize Santa’s great powers, his ability to be everywhere at once, and how important it is to believe in him or he might not show up. Remind your children frequently that Santa has the power to grant wishes–and never disappoints.


Should you be in the habit of attending worship services, I suggest you refrain from doing so in the weeks leading up to Christmas. In the first place, it will ease the holiday scheduling somewhat. But more importantly, it frees you from having to deal with distracting issues surrounding Advent practices.

Advent, the Christian season leading to Christmas, is about the preparation on the part of broken humanity to receive the Savior. Advent readings don’t fit well with the theme of cheer, happiness, gifts and Santa that characterize the season. For example, look at the Old Testament reading for the first Sunday in Advent. This is downright depressing and to be avoided if you want to keep holiday spirits intact.

However, if you feel you must go to church during those weeks, go to those that ignore Advent and it’s minor-key, sad music. Far, far less confusing and helps keep your energy level high, undistracted by pondering the lost state of humanity.

One exception might be Christmas Eve–making sure, of course, that the service time is convenient and does not interfere with other planned family fun, celebrations, TV specials and Santa’s appearance. Best choice is some place where you will be treated to a spectacular professional performance, preferably with live animals.


This day is ALL about the gifts Santa and his elves made and Rudolph brought. If you want to mention Jesus, perhaps you can do a “birthday party for Jesus” when you bring out the dessert for the meal. If you do this, be sure that the babyhood of Jesus is all that is mentioned. Do not let any idea of “God with us” or “Unto us a Son is Given” where the government will be upon his shoulders and he shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, with the concomitant demand for adoration, interfere with the party/gift atmosphere.

I feel sure there are lots of other suggestions for keeping people focused and stress-free for the season. Please feel free to add yours in the comments section below. It’s time to take back Christmas and keep intact the reason for the season!

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Nov 24 2014

UMC Lead: From Ordinary to Extraordinary

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It’s been cold here in the South.

It’s weird to say as a native Pennsylvanian who attended a college where it snowed from October-April (and that’s not an exaggeration). But for some reason, it’s been especially cold in South Carolina these days. Maybe it’s because I haven’t lived above the Mason-Dixon line for more than six years now, but I still blame it on the fact that it just feels colder down here.

And for an area that prides itself on hospitality, I felt really, really cold on Wednesday. I somehow convinced myself that it was just too cold to eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast (hey, whatever it takes), so I went to my favorite dive in town to grab a breakfast sandwich and a hot chocolate. It was the day of our charge conference–an annual gathering at each local church reviewing the past year and setting in place the leadership for the year ahead–so I needed a hearty breakfast, anyway (again, whatever it takes). I left the dive with my breakfast in tow, when I was on the wrong end of a hit and run. I suppose there’s no right end of a hit and run, but when you find yourself detailing to multiple police officers a car you saw only briefly as it slammed you off the side of the road, you know it’s going to be a long day.

We’ve certainly become accustomed to long days as it is. It’s been an especially rough week at Clemson UMC; by the end of the weekend, we will have had 6 worship services and 4 funerals in a 9 day span. When you’re in seminary you hear about these moments–when there aren’t enough minutes in the day, let alone hours, and you just try your best to faithfully make it through. But it’s a whole different ballgame when you’re actually experiencing them yourself in the context of pastoral ministry.

As much of a high-energy, extremely extroverted person as I may be, I’ve found myself needing to simply step back for a moment and be still in the midst of these enduring days. And as unruly as things may be, in these moments of being still and knowing I’m part of something greater than I can understand, I’ve found a little bit of peace and a good helping of gratitude. In these days leading up to a holiday where we as a nation give thanks, I find myself especially grateful for transformation. For the light that breaks through the darkness, for the hope that lingers in times of despair, for life eternal in the face of death.

For me, this has been most evident in community throughout these sometimes-chaotic-yet-somehow-always-beautiful days. Because in between the very minor accident and the charge conference, my hope was restored in friends who acted like taxi drivers, without any complaints about how I was interrupting their days. In a student dropping by my office to say that my pastoral leadership helped him respond to this call in his life, too. In lay leaders and staff members who recapped an incredible year and are excited to see where the Spirit leads us going forward.

In this past year, we launched a new worship service at my church–one that celebrates the sacrament of Holy Communion each week. I love sharing in communion because we trust in the power of transformation. Just as God is transforming this ordinary meal into an extraordinary means of grace where we might come to grow in the peace, mercy, love, and reconciliation we receive in breaking the bread and sharing the cup together, so, too, are we being changed. We as a people are being nourished and strengthened on this sometimes tiring journey, so that as we leave the walls of the sanctuary each and every week, we would be the hands and feet of Christ that also let God’s extraordinary light break into the darkness each and every day.

In this week I’ve learned that as many times as I say that in the midst of our liturgy, as many times as I try to do that each week, I know sometimes, I need to be on the receiving end of this transformation, too. Sometimes, I need to be still and know not only that God is good and but also that goodness is breaking through in ordinary people who do extraordinary things to let God’s love and light shine in this place.

Some days ministry can be this neat and tidy thing where you get everything on your to-do list checked off. Other days you can’t see your to-do list because it’s covered in hot chocolate after some kid couldn’t even stop after he hit you. But after the anger, frustration, and four letter words subside, you know that even these ordinary messes can somehow become extraordinary ways where you see God’s love in a community you never thought you’d be a part of and a church you never knew you could love so much.

I heard on the radio that there are freezing temperatures in all 50 states this week (even Hawaii!). As we’re experiencing some frigid times, I hope we will be the hands and feet that let the light break through. Even if they’re covered in gloves with hot chocolate spilled all over them, that’s okay. This journey isn’t always neat and tidy. Sometimes it’s in the midst of the chaos that we see God’s grace turn chaos into beauty, darkness into light, and the ordinary into extraordinary. In this season of thanksgiving, I’m finding that is something to be grateful for.

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Nov 24 2014

Bishop's Blog: World AIDS Day: Educate, Donate to Help Us Find a Cure

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As I reflect back on the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980’s it was a time of intense fear in the church I was serving in Baltimore.  A number of the church members had contracted the disease and as the word spread people were afraid to even stand near the infected ones. 

I remember a board meeting where folks were calling for the end of “passing the peace” during the service, and for intinction during Holy Communion to be replaced with individual cups of grape juice.  There was a lot of unfounded fear and ignorance; and sadly there were also many deaths because medications and treatment had not been developed. 

Fast forward to 2014, and it is a different story.  Dr. Christoph Benn, Director of External Relations for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, addressed the Council of Bishops at the November meeting in Oklahoma City.  He was very hopeful and he commended The United Methodist Church for partnering with The Global Fund in combating these killer diseases.  

In terms of HIV/AIDS, he reported that there are 33 percent fewer people in the world with the disease since 2005.  In terms of deaths, there are 1.5 million people dying from AIDS complications now, as opposed to 3 million in 2005. There were 400,000 babies born with HIV back then, and now that number has been cut in half.  While AIDS is still a major heath concern on this planet, we are making progress in eliminating it due to medical advances in fighting this disease and the large amount of money that has been raised.

Dr. Benn stressed that medication as well as education is the winning combination. The more people learn about the disease the better they can take preventative measures.  Education also helps eliminate the stigma that comes with this disease. 

While I was touring the East Congo Conference this summer our team visited an AIDS clinic. The social worker there was explaining to parents with a baby born with HIV that they should not reject their child.  Some parents were actually hiding their babies under the bed because of the stigma of AIDS. 

The UMC has more than 200 HIV/AIDS clinics like this one in over 35 countries working hard to both treat the disease and teach people about prevention.

The UMC is challenging the world to eliminate this disease by the year 2020.  December 1st is World AIDS Day and it would be a great opportunity to teach your church about HIV/AIDS and to collect funds for the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund (UMGAF). 

The monies collected helps efforts in developing countries, but 25 percent of all donations through the UMC remain in the donor annual conferences for AIDS ministries.  For more information and promotional materials check out the UMCOR website at:

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Nov 24 2014

It's All Grace: What is Church? Guest Post 2

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Author Background/Bio: I was born into a loving family in Latin America. As many other families in my circle, they made the radical move labeled as “conversion” from the Catholic Church to a Methodist Church. Growing up, this was an important distinction because of the differences in belief held by each group; after coming to the United States, my experience was somewhat different. I noticed that, while divided, people from various churches (e.g., Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Pentecostals, and others) considered and labeled themselves as simply “Christians.” Perhaps this was true for the sake of unity or perhaps it was for the sake of attaining political leverage by presenting this group as one massive unit rather than multiple smaller groups; either way, the lines seemed to be more blurred here in the U.S. than the bold lines and walls that were dividing the various Christianities in my native land. My family transferred to the U.S. while I was still a child and we attended a charismatic, independent church where I had the privilege of serving in many areas including music, teaching, and youth ministries. I still serve in this church in a role that would most plainly be described as a “lay minister.”

What is church? In my experience, church has been a place where many questions are suppressed or silenced when these seem inconvenient. It is a place that often offers assertions of “Truth” in the place of reasonable responses, especially when the most honest answer to certain questions is: “I do not know.” It is a place where people are pressured to align with acceptable beliefs, whether these make sense or not. Church can be a very challenging place for someone who places high value on following truth and evidence wherever these may lead; this is probably inescapable due to the nature of a faith-based institution. Evidence is not required for matters of faith, and sometimes, evidence is censored when it does not align with the preconceived assumptions upon which certain beliefs are based.

Church is also a tough place for people who do not conform to its social norm, especially in matters such as sexuality; many churches (most of the ones I know) would not be welcoming places to people of the LGBT community. Sure, many churches are now learning to be more open to these people, but it truly seems to be a step (or ten steps) behind social progress most of the time. I personally believe that one reason why church usually has such strong opinions on sexual matters is because its leaders have understood that sexuality is something very important to people; therefore, if they can make people feel guilty about their sexual behavior, these people can be controlled more easily because they constantly feel as if they somehow “fall short” of the high standard of sexual purity imposed by the church. This is only one way in which I see the church manipulates people.

Another way in which I see the church often controls people is by promising eternal bliss if the person obeys and conforms, while threatening with punishments such as hellfire for the disobedient and non-conformists, this is all planted in the minds of believers from an early age. I once heard someone speak about how a massive circus elephant was tied to a tiny post by a tent. The elephant did not even try to set itself free, when the guest asked why this was the case, the animal controller explained that the elephant had been conditioned since he was very young. This was simple: as a baby, the elephant was tied to the post and he tried unsuccessfully to set himself free; after so many failures, the elephant stopped trying. Despite the fact that the elephant had grown big and strong enough to effortlessly pull the post and the tent and walk right out of there, the elephant would do no such thing because he was conditioned at an early age to believe that he could not do so. This is how I see the church, it is often a place where people are conditioned to believe that they need to be there, leaders take advantage of this conditioning to control people and have them do as they please. People are made to believe things that often make no sense and to believe that they have to be tied to the proverbial post and have no way to be truly free and think freely.

Even with all of these troublesome issues, church is a place where people develop important relationships, discover talents, and sharpen skills. A church setting can really provide a great platform to develop relationships because people who are drawn to the same church often share some common traits, likes, and struggles; this really helps to form a bond. I mention the talents because children, teens, and adults often have opportunities to express their respective talents in church activities. For example: singers and musicians can really express themselves freely in worship; gifted public speakers can develop and sharpen their skills through teaching and preaching.

People go to church for many reasons, one of the reasons I often see when adults come to church is because they are seeking refuge while going through one of various storms of life (such as: marital problems, issues with kids, depression, and grief). Church certainly serves to provide a community where people can develop bonds with others; these bonds often help people to overcome challenges that are better handled in community rather than alone.

I have thought about the importance of church and I sometimes wonder if church has contributed all it can to society. Some days I think that the time for church has passed. There was a time when human beings did not know what caused storms, illness, and famine; church told people that these were caused by the supernatural, now we have natural explanations for all of these occurrences thanks to our scientific advances. When I think about the ways in which the church can be relevant, I try to think of ways that it can serve the community in which it is planted. Instead of gaining control or obtaining other benefits, the church should focus on providing service to the underprivileged, the hungry, and the needy. Today we can also study social issues, find trends, and come up with practical solutions for these challenges. Each church group can center its efforts on the specific needs of its surroundings in a way that if someone tries to remove the church, people from the community (whether they belong to the church body or not) would protest because the church has been such a force for good. I believe that the church can remain relevant as long as it evolves to adapt to the new times and continually comes up with creative ways to love and serve people.


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