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July 26, 2005

Salvation for a Young Preacher

I received an email from a friend of mine asking me to send him a true story from my life. This is the story.

I was serving my first appointment as the pastor of the Statesboro Circuit. The Circuit consisted of four congregations. The four churches were Charlestown, Springhead and Goloid all located in Screven County and one in Statesboro, Brannen Chapel. Willie Edward Benton was the charge Lay Leader and the charge Pastor/Parish Relations Chair. Benton called me one morning in about my second month of serving the Charge and invited me to lunch, but he was coming by about 9:00 am to pick me up. Well, sure enough about nine he showed up and off we went. He said to me, “Rev. Swanson, I thought it would be good for me to show you around Screven County so you would know how to get around.” I think I might have mumbled something, “Sure.”

We began our tour of about a five mile radius of the three churches and along the way he would point out a house and say, “Now, Mr. & Mrs. Hunter live there. Doug Daniel lives there. The Williams family they live back up in there.” He would add as we passed some homes, “Now, Rev. they haven’t been to church in some time. The man who lives in that house has been sick for a while now and I can’t recall the last time someone served him and his wife communion. This guy has a good job but he never gives to the church. This family stopped coming to the church when we had a split several years ago and now they don’t go to any church at all. The lady that lives there is not a member of our church she is a member of the Baptist church but in times past attended our church every third Sunday. I wonder why she doesn’t come anymore.”

Now, this went on for about an hour and finally, I asked him, “Bro. Benton, are you trying to tell me something?” He stopped the truck and looked at me and said with a curious look in his eye, “Why, Rev. Swanson you are the pastor. I wouldn’t dare try to tell you how to do your job. Now, if you saw something that is stirring in you then maybe you need to let the Lord tell you what to do.” And with that, he headed back to Statesboro and we went to Kentucky Fried Chicken and had lunch together. But, when he dropped me back off at my home I got in my car and did some visiting in those two counties. And for his visit that day I am eternally grateful.

Now, the beautiful part of this story was that Willie Benton went on to be with the Lord in a little more than two years after this. I say it was beautiful because he left a part of him with me and therefore as long as I live he lives and if this story blesses you then he will continue to live. By the way he was only 42 years old when he died.

Posted by Bishop at 09:51 AM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2005

What Happened?

Lyle Schaller has a new book out called "A Mainline Turnaround". I have just started reading this book but as most books do it really sparked some conversations within me. In his first Chapter he writes about “What Happened?" to the mainline churches. In one of the beginning paragraphs he writes, "Why did the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York City collapse on September 11, 2001? The National Institute of Standards and Technology subsequently concluded the combination of the intense heat, the inadequate fireproofing, the design of the floor trusses, the grade of the steel used in the construction, and other variables in the design meant that the buildings could crumble if the unexpected should happen. The unexpected came on a sunny September morning when the fuel-laden wings of two commercial aircraft traveling at nearly 600 miles per hour cut through those exterior walls and the fuel ignited."

The buildings failed because they met with conditions they were not designed to respond to. Schaller believes that Mainline Churches are crumbling because we have met conditions we were not designed to meet. Schaller asks a very piercing question, “When the actual outcomes do not match the desired results, whom do we blame?" Schaller lists three reasons that our churches are crumbling.

1. Inadequate human resources--We simply have not produced the leaders we need for today.
2. We have designed our churches "...to serve a foreseeable set of circumstances. When the circumstances changed on us we did not change our systems
3. It is three times as difficult to be an effective pastor today as it was in 1955. Peoples' expectations of the pastor have changed and the context in which we live and do ministry has changed.

Schaller lifts up some interesting challenges for us but in this book he also lifts up a word of hope and seeks to point us in a helpful direction. This is informative and inspirational. I suggest that you read the book.

Posted by Bishop at 10:56 AM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2005

Winning at all cost

I remember growing up in my hometown of Houston, TX in the Studewood Community. My friends and I played a lot of Sand Lot football and baseball during those days. I always wanted to win and boy did I play hard and did all I could to win. My mother was a person who believed in "playing fair." She once discovered that I would argue and sometimes almost come to blows when I was thrown out in baseball. She made me stop playing for a week and to think about how much more important it is to play fair than to seek to win by "any means necessary".
I believe that many in our society today could benefit from a world wide "timeout" to think how we interact as we compete. It is so depressing to me when I see Christians who remind me of my childish behavior of "winning at all cost". Christians must never forget that God expects us to be Christ-like not only in the choices we support but also in how we behave while making our positions known. I offer the following examples. It is right for us to debate our positions with others but it is wrong for us to injure others to get our way. It is right for us to campaign for the person we want to elect to a particular office but it is wrong to destroy our opponent's advertisements and to use false and misleading information to discredit those we oppose. Momma was right play the game and have fun but realize that your main calling is not to win but to be Christ-like.

Posted by Bishop at 09:01 AM | Comments (0)

When you love...

My kids have two birds. These birds are so messy and require you to spend a lot of time cleaning up after them. One of them is so noisy that he disturbs the peace and tranquility of the house. As you might guess, I can't stand these birds and yet I realize that JaNae' and Josh love these disturbing animals. And every time those birds get on my nerves I have to weigh my reaction to the birds against my great love for those two kids and it is amazing that when I do that how much easier it is for me to accept even these birds.

I realize that there are people who work our nerves but when we think of how much God loves these persons and that Jesus was willing to die for even those who try my patience, my love for God constrains and sometimes even transforms my reaction to them.

Rodney King asked the question, "Can we just get along?" I hate to pour cold water on these words but we Christians are not commanded to just get along with people we are commanded to love them. And when we do...oh my God what a difference LOVE makes.

Posted by Bishop at 08:58 AM | Comments (1)

July 07, 2005

More Terror

It appears that we live in a world that continues to respond to pain by inflicting pain on others. I am aware that many in the Arab world have felt for many years that their cry for a homeland for Palestinian people has fallen upon deaf ears yet I cannot condone or have sympathy for those who are determined to get their way by violent means. My heart goes out to those in London who even as I write are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, make sense out of what appears to be sheer evil and go on with life. Jesus lived in a time when it would appear that violence was needed to secure the human rights of his people yet he never advocated the violent responses we see from terrorists who ask us to be sympathetic to their concerns.

I realize that the continual conflict between the Palestinian people and the nation of Israel coupled with the war in Iraq are events that are complicated. I do not profess to be an authority on what produces terrorists outside of the condition of sin. I pray for anyone who allows hurt to make them hate to the point where they would kill not only those who have hurt them but to kill indiscriminately. My prayer also is that those of us who are disciples will realize that when we allow disagreements with others to consume us that our anger and hatred smothers out the love of God in Jesus Christ.

I call upon all Holston Conference United Methodist to:
1. begin praying on a scheduled basis for the intervention of peace and to find ways to promote sisterhood and brotherhood especially with people who are not like us.
2. find ways to setup prayer circles in your congregations in which we seek ways that we can advocate for peace in our communities, in our states, in our nation, and around the world.

Please don't let this hurt cause you to forget him who is the Prince of peace

Posted by Bishop at 12:50 PM | Comments (1)