Category Archives: Pastor’s Ponderings

Pastor’s Ponderings

By Pastor Gary Peterson

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 1:1). I hear those words, and I am instantly transported to Christmas Eve at our church, the warmth of worshipers as we gather together, and the lights are turned down low for our Candlelight service. The music is mellow and comforting and familiar notes of, “What Child Is This” drift from our sanctuary. We sit in our pews and all our worship focuses around the proclamation: “Jesus Christ is born today.”

Christmas is about a small child in a manger. We sing Christmas carols during Advent and our weekly readings as we light the Advent Candles that connect us to the Advent themes of hope, joy, love and peace. As we go through the Advent season we are to, “prepare” for Christmas when we celebrate the birth of our Savior as Christians have done for over 2000 years. Advent is to help us prepare for the story of an angel coming to Mary, for Jesus family to journey to Bethlehem, the search for an inn, the shepherds on the hillside who would witness the birth of the Savior Child and the angelic choir singing “Hosanna in the highest”.

At times it can be difficult for us to focus in on the fact that it is about a baby. For we get caught up in the commercial part of Christmas, Santa Claus and the busyness of the season and our heart finds it difficult to focus on this small child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

The purpose of Advent is to help us begin to focus and prepare for the true meaning of Christmas. We begin four weeks before Christmas during our worship time by lighting candles of the Advent wreath and allowing the liturgy as we light those candles to warm and prepare our hearts for the Savior’s birth. To move us even closer our young people are now preparing a holiday pageant for us on Sunday December 16th that will bring us prepared for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and helping us recognize the reason for the season.

The reason for Advent is for us to bring ourselves close to our Savior and to connect God’s people back to God’s story given to us from generation to generation and across the ages. It is taking the traditional Christmas stories that many people know and love and weaving them into a big picture of God’s salvation plan. It is my goal during this Advent season that we would come to feel the themes of hope, love, joy, peace, light, and eternal life as we share the good news of a miracle birth. We have opportunities during our Advent worship services, educational opportunities in Sunday school, caroling at the senior home, Blue Christmas and our candlelight service on Christmas Eve to bring us to the blessing of Luke 2:15 – 14, “Suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth, good will toward all people.”

My prayer for you is that Advent will be for you a journey that takes you to Bethlehem and the celebration of God’s greatest gift given for you and for me in the birth of his son Jesus the Christ.

Pastor’s Ponderings

By Pastor Gary Peterson
In just a few days we, as a country, will have the opportunity to voice our intentions for our community, state and country through the midterm elections. The polls taken recently have shown that more and more people believe our country is becoming more divided and coming together less and less. Unless we take up the mantle of leadership by our casting of votes where every person’s voice can be heard and can reach their full potential we cannot change our community, our state, our country and the world.

In our divided country in which we currently live, what role can and must the church play? We are not without hope. These words from Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 sermon “Strength to Love” gives us a place to put our attention. “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture his prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggles for peace, for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause people everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will.” Remember WE are the church.

We as United Methodist have a conscience and we are obligated to express our conscience as we look forward to casting our votes this November. Our conscience comes from our doctrinal heritage where we believe Scriptures holiness always entails more than just personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and a renewal in the life of the world. From our social principles we know that “Every person has a right to a job at a living wage.” And in spite of general affluence and the industrialized nations the majority of persons in the world live in poverty. In order to provide basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, education, healthcare and other vital necessities of life; we must find ways to share more accurately the resources of the world. As a church, as the United Methodist Church we are called to support the work needed so that all the world can live above the, “Basic needs of life.”

What can people of faith do to be the conscience of the state? We must encourage our government and those that we elect to provide ways for those who live at the poverty levels to be able to rise above and also we must provide social safety nets so that the people living next door, on the next street, in the next community, in our country and around the world can have healthcare, food, clothing, shelter and education. Our social principles of the United Methodist Church require us as United Methodist to do all that we can to help provide more than just the minimum requirements for all people.

We can advocate through letters, phone calls, our presence and our vote. We must recognize that our government and our nation exist to serve its citizens and we as a church are called to be a conscience, guide or critic of the state. Whenever we turn in on ourselves or failed to serve the very least in our midst we are violating our principles as United Methodist and as Christians. Our country was founded on ideals that include welcoming all to our shores, moving beyond our borders, to seek justice around the world and ensuring fullness of life for each person on God’s earth.

We in the United States, I believe, were never destined to be self-serving and isolationist. Our founder John Wesley proclaimed that the whole world is our parish, so the entire world is our concern as well. I ask you as a people of a faith covenant to support those we elect by our vote not just in a few days but as we are asked again and again to voice our support through voting, by our prayers, our encouragement and by serving to be a conscience to those around us and those we elect who would determine the future of our community, our state, our country and the world. Dare we work for the day when our nation and the world would look like God’s reign, where the poor will go first, those earning minimum wage will sit at the places of honor and those who are rejected because of their skin color, immigration status or sexual orientation/gender identity are welcome with open arms? Dare we move from praying, “God, make our country great; America first!” To “God, use us as your servants to make every corner of our world safe and whole again?”

My prayer for us as we go forward in our midterm election, and in our church conference that comes at the end of November, when those we elect in leadership positions and those we trust who will have influences upon us will be led by God into the future with humility, grace and hope and may we too be filled with humility, grace and hope as we serve our Lord Jesus The Christ. Amen.

Pastor’s Ponderings

As I write this, “Pastor’s Ponderings” to you I am in the midst of preparing to attend an educational growth experience for pastors as we lead congregations of the United Methodist Church. This growth experience is called, “Healthy Congregations” and as I prepare for this experience and learning during the first week of October, we, as participants, have been asked to pray and prepare ourselves to explore a number of statements to move us along in this learning journey. I would like to share just a few of the statements with you:

– When we speak, discern and lead within our churches we are standing on Holy Ground because we are rooted and grounded in love. We are called to take off our shoes in humility.

– The love of Christ is far greater than the knowledge that each one of us has.

– We can only grasp the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love when we love one another.

– Every single child and family in heaven and on earth takes their name from God.

– Who is God calling us to be at this moment? Who are we? Whose are we?

During these past couple weeks, as I have prayed and attempted to discern not only my answers but my feelings on these statements, I have recognized that the Holy Spirit has come into my life from different angles and movements and this coming into my soul has caused me to reflect back on a number of encounters with others that I have had. I have become open to seeing possibilities on who we are as the Claybanks United Methodist Church within our community, our United Methodist denomination and as Christians.

For the past two years one of my functions as your pastor has been to assess how healthy is the Claybanks United Methodist Church. My response to those who asked the question, is that Claybanks United Methodist Church is one of the healthiest congregations within the Michigan Area Conference of the United Methodist Church. That being said, there is one area that has come to my attention because of some recent encounters – we and most churches withdraw and do not assert ourselves and share God’s grace with others. We wait for, “opportunities” rather than opening the doors wide.

Many churches, the United Methodist denomination and other denominations, are on a slow decline. While there are many reasons for this, I do believe that one reason is we are not blessing others because we do not share the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ openly. Within our congregation we love each other and receive many blessings when we come together to worship and fellowship within the Claybanks United Methodist Church congregation. But we and so many other Christians, churches, and denominations miss the opportunities to share God’s love, grace and mercy with those around us. Why do we do this? Primarily because we don’t want to be offensive by being, “too churchy”. Too often when we are with others and the subject of, “Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and are you attending worship” comes up, we are proud and excited to share that we attend Claybanks United Methodist Church and what a blessing it is for us. To the point that this is such a personal blessing, we hold it for ourselves and miss a chance to share the blessing with all of God’s people. So, we fall short by not saying, “Come join us”! I, as a pastor, also fall short by not always extending an invitation to attend “my church”. I try to use the excuse that I and many of those who I come in contact with live quite a distance from Claybanks. But I should be encouraging those I meet to attend one of the many churches close to where they live and work. To do this is to use the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ has commanded us to share our faith with those around us. When we share the love, grace and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are truly opening our hearts, our minds and our spirits to the greatest gift we have ever received and that is Jesus Christ as our Savior. We as Christians must get excited and share the Word of God, the peace of Jesus Christ and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit with all of those who God has sent into our lives. The openings are there, and we have the words, for the Holy Spirit empowers us to share our faith with all of God’s children.

I/we must share our faith and be invitational with all of God’s people as we journey hand-in-hand with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for eternality.

Share God’s Grace! It is a gift to be shared.

The Holy Spirit goes with you.

Pastor Gary

Pastor’s Ponderings

As Christians and as Methodists we are sometimes criticized by others and ourselves as being too serious and not always taking the time to recognize the humor in life, to laugh and to smile. This message is written for the lighter side to find encouragement and usefulness. I thank Frank and Larry Gamby old friends from Fennville for passing on the “Missouri Chigger” for the background of this message.

Food for Thought:
There is no need to fear the wind if your haystacks are tied down.
Wisdom is the comb given to a man after he has lost his hair.
Three best things to have plenty of – sunshine, wisdom and generosity.
Everyone lays a burden on the willing horse.
Why should we go to church and encourage those Christians who say to us that, “I am a Christian but don’t need to attend church”?
A church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to Church every Sunday. “I have gone to church for 30 years now,” he wrote, “And I have heard about fifteen hundred sermons. But for the life of me I cannot remember much about any particular one. So I think that I am wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.”

This started a real controversy in the letters to the editor section much to the delight of many. The discussion and letter writing went on for a number of weeks until one letter brought the discussion to a halt.

The writer wrote: “I have been married for thirty years now. In that time my wife and I have cooked and consumed some thirty thousand meals. But for the life of me, I cannot remember the entire menu for a specific one of those meals. But I know this…They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my labor each day. If my wife or I had not consumed these meals, we would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”
When you are DOWN to nothing ..God is UP to something! Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible! Thank God for
our physical and our spiritual nourishment!

Thank you, Robert McPheeters for sharing your great insight so that we might be able share this important concept with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As we approach the end of summer it is my prayer and I ask the church parish to continue to pray that we extend a hand and welcome for those who seek spiritual feeding and know that Jesus went to the cross not only for all of us, He would have done it even if we were only one lost sheep. It is in His resurrection that we can know the love of God for each of us, His “Children.” This love will bring us together for eternity.

Pastor Gary


Pastor’s Ponderings

Misusing Scripture

When I was studying to become a pastor at United Theological Seminary, in more than one class, I remember the instructors cautioning us as pastors to be careful how we use Scripture to support an idea or opinion as we present God’s Word to our members and community.

Normally when I write Pastor’s Notes to you in our newsletters I tried to make them informative and upbeat so that as we continue to engage each other and community as we present the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as positive and influential in the ways we live our lives thus encouraging others to walk a closer journey with God.

I am not trying to take political sides but recently the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, reminded me and others of what our theological school professors continually reminded us of: how to and not to use a single verse from Scripture to defend what we say and do. When we use a single verse, it can easily be taken out of context and misused in an attempt to support what we say or do. But, to do this is an inappropriate way for the use of Scripture. When we use a single verse and do not take into consideration the complete context from which it was taken, we could misuse or misappropriate its meaning.

“Every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There is not any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God” (Romans 13:1). This single verse was used to justify and defend the policy of separating immigrant children from their families. Now this use of Romans 13:1 was not the first attempt to justify how the government or administrative authorities have the right to do whatever they want. Throughout history there have been times when governments have used Romans 13:1 to defend their actions as, “Sanctioning governments as instruments of God and coerce people into obedience”. During the American Revolution slaveholders used this verse to promote slavery. In our early times advocates for the death penalty used it to defend capital punishment. When we look at Romans and the chapters and verses that surround Romans 13:1, what we see from chapters 12 and 13, they tell us that we are to abhor evil and do good, to practice hospitality, to be at peace, to overcome evil with good, to love our neighbors and to lay aside immoral actions.

When we look for other Scripture to justify the separation of children from parents we find very little in Scripture that would promote such practices. The opposite can be supported by an accumulation of a number of other Scriptures that would support that families should and must be kept together. When we use a verse in Scripture it must be supported by other Scripture verses as we work to interpret what the Bible says to us, and in this case, we should look at Zachariah 7:9 – 10 “Make just and fateful decisions; show kindness and compassion to each other! Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor; do not plan evil against each other!” Proverbs 31:8 – 9 says, “Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.” Jeremiah 22:3 “The Lord proclaims: do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor. Do not exploit or miss treat the refugee, the orphan and the widow. Do not spill the blood of the innocent in this place.” We can go on and find other Scripture such as Isaiah 58:6 – 7 or Leviticus 19:33 – 34 and yes, the list could go on and on as we search for how God would want us to use Scripture, in this case as we advocate for the love of our sisters and brothers and yes, the little children.

I am proud that many within the United Methodist Church and many within our denomination have taken a stance to support the care, respect and loving treatment of all of God’s children. I want to thank and acknowledge the United Methodist Agency On Justice for Neighbors, the United Methodist Counsel of Bishops, the United Methodist Women and so many other United Methodists who have spoken against the separation of families recently and against this in the future; also, Professor Magrey deVega who researched and presented the correct way to read and use Biblical Scripture in this matter.

Pastor Gary

Pastor’s Ponderings

In last month’s Good News Letter, I started a series of articles called “why we are United Methodists” and this month I am listing the basic concepts of what we believe as United Methodists. John Wesley, our founder, believed there were a number of common Christian beliefs and we have adopted those beliefs as United Methodists.

These core beliefs are as follow:

  • We believe in and worship the divine Trinity. We praise God one in three divine persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the full divinity of Jesus Christ.
  • We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God.
  • We believe in the atonement and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ sacrificed his life and poured out his emptiness for human salvation.
  • We believe that our salvation comes about through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • We believe in the biblical authority in which Scripture is the sufficient rule of both Christian faith and our practice. The Bible contains all that is necessary for human salvation and for the reform of the church.
  • We believe in the justification by faith alone. Faith must engage our heart and our mind in knowing God in three persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in regeneration and holiness. As an evangelical church we affirm that grace is received from God as we continue to renew our trust in God.
  • We believe in the Christian church. The church is a, “society” of believers and is necessary to come together to hear the Word of God, receive the sacraments and be in friendship together to support one another.
  • We believe in the sacraments of baptism and communion. Baptism is the evidence that we are forgiven of our sins and we are born again into a new birth through Jesus Christ. Communion, The Lord’s Supper, offers us outward sacramental signs of bread and wine and the inward grace signified by these signs.

By accepting these beliefs as Wesleyans and as United Methodist, we experience as John Wesley would call, “the way of salvation” or “the way to heaven.” John Wesley recognizes three stages of receiving grace – first Prevenient Grace, second Justifying Grace and thirdly Sanctifying Grace. These three forms of grace come with us as we find God’s way to salvation for each one of us.

Pastor’s Ponderings

Why United Methodist?

Every year we get an opportunity to navigate our way through the Michigan Annual Conference as United Methodists. And at times at Annual Conference I wonder why I am a United Methodist. I did not inherit this faith. I did have an opportunity to grow up in “the church” but not as a “United Methodist”. So, for me, being United Methodist was and is a choice. There are some specific reasons I embraced the United Methodist Way of being Christian. My intent is to write the first of three Pastor’s Ponderings to you in this month’s newsletter. In this, the first addressing, I want to give you a few reasons why I am United Methodist. My second writing for July will be a continuation of why I chose the United Methodist Church. And for August my intent is to write about some of those things that, from our 2018 Annual Conference, continue to engage me as a United Methodist. As I share some of these reasons to be a United Methodist I encourage you to engage me in a conversation as to why you have chosen to be a United Methodist. I will be presenting these reasons why I am United Methodist in no particular order.

Religion should be a matter of head and heart. Since the beginning, people called Methodists have used the best of the resources available from Scripture, reason, tradition and personal experience in the practice of their faith. I will unpack some elements by starting with, as Methodist, we take a serious approach to the witness of Scripture rather than a literal approach. We consider what this message of the Bible said to the people who originally heard it and we discern how it still speaks today to the people living in very different circumstances than those who first heard the Word. As we do that, however, we seek to remain open to all of Scripture which speaks to us and commands that we witness to Scripture.

We, as United Methodists, are not required or allowed to check our brain at the door. We use our God-given abilities, including powers of reason, to discern what is necessary, right and good. We believe that God wants thinking Christians, not sheep who are disengaged.

People called Methodists also value being part of “that great cloud of witnesses,” which is the most vital part of the tradition of the Christian church. We believe the faithful examples and practices of our forerunners in the faith have much to teach us about how we might become better disciples. In lifting up tradition we make an important distinction between tradition and traditionalism. Traditionalism is a form of idolatry that perseveres the practices of the past at the expense, or perhaps even exclusion, of the church’s mission in the present age. Tradition is practicing the essentials of our faith in a way that engages us today with the vital message of the gospel. In all we do we strive to be on the living edge of Christian faith.

We believe God still speaks to people today. The Methodist movement began with an experience of one individual, John Wesley our founder, who had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ that left his heart on fire for God. For years now, one of the questions asked of Methodist pastors are: where did they and how are they currently experiencing Christ as their Lord and Savior? When Methodist gather in small groups or engage one another we are to inquire, “How is it with your soul?” This should be done as a way of inviting each person to share their personal experience with God. We believe that such experiences make all the difference. From generation to generation the people called Methodists have believed that an individual encounter with God in Jesus Christ has the power to transform a person’s life. The experience opens them to new understandings of the Bible, offering new ideas about their place in God’s creation and prompts them to consider new ways of practicing their faith in the world.

Next month I plan to write about what United Methodists believe about salvation, which makes a huge difference in how we experience and share, “Being in Christ,” which can influence us to engage the world. Many of the best gifts of our Bible witness, the reasons guiding our light, and living as Christians in a tradition and a personal experience of God saving grace direct our journey and satisfy our soul.

Pastor Gary

(Thoughts take from “Wesleyan Beliefs by Ted Campbell”)