Category Archives: Pastor’s Ponderings

Pastor’s Pondering

For our February newsletter, I started a series on Bibles. The February Pondering dealt with which is the best Bible for you. In March my Pondering looked at the history of our Bible. For this our third Pondering on our Bibles, I would like to look at how to use your Bible. When I was in seminary, one of the first classes as students that we were able to take dealt with how to study the Bible so that we might share what it contains with others. For me as a pastor this means first of all what does my Bible say to me. Secondly, how can I share what Scripture says with others in a Bible study class through discussion. Thirdly, as a pastor I must be able to prepare a message from Scripture for Sunday Worship or at other times when learning can occur.

If we want to know God’s Word then we must be able to read our Bibles in a way that we develop a yearning for a deep and abiding relationship with God. What we read in Scripture must develop into a Christian life which allows us to grow in our knowledge of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. God’s Word is to allow us to interact with God on a personal level, absorbing the message and letting God engage us in His truth as He places it on our hearts, in our minds and in our lives. This means that we must be inductive in our study, searching for truth for ourselves, discerning what is meant in Scripture and applying the Scriptures to our lives.

We first must be observant. To be observant we must ask what the passage says. Which means we must read the Bible with more than our eyes, we must read it with our mind. This takes quite a bit of time practice and effort on our part.

Secondly, we must begin interpretation of what we have read. This means asking the question: what does the passage say to me? There are two parts to interpretation of Scripture. First is the most basic and simple of observations. Secondly, when we put the passage with other passages we discover that there is more than just what is on the surface, but the overall meaning or direction in which the Scripture is taking us.

Thirdly, we must be able to apply what we have read and put it into action in our lives which means we must decide how to respond in obedience to what we have read. The basis for this application is found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 where it says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient and equipped for every good work.” When we know what God says, what he means, and how to put his truth into practice, we will be equipped as Christians for every circumstance of life.

To be successful as we journey with God through Scripture in reading our Bibles I would suggest trying the steps:

Choose a Book of the Bible (Choose a short book and then move to longer books).
Begin with prayer.
Read first the entire Book of Scripture.
Zoom in by first reading a chapter and then verse by verse.
Use tools such as Commentaries, Bible Study Guides and other Bible resources.
Be a doer of the Word; put it in to action.
Set your own pace.
When opportunities arise discuss what you have read and discerned with others so that you might get new and fresh perspectives on God’s Word.

God gave us his Word in Scripture so that we might journey closer with him and develop a more intimate relationship with Him in our living through Scripture as his blessed children.

Pastor’s Ponderings

Because of recent happenings in the United Methodist Church, I would like to bring you up-to-date concerning the Traditionalist Plan passed by the Special General Conference held in St. Louis at the end of February just a few short weeks ago. I had planned to bring you the third pondering on our Holy Bible this month yet feel it necessary to postpone it until possibly our next newsletter.

Following the merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the United Brethren Evangelical Church in 1968 at the General Conference in 1972, our Book of Discipline was changed with the addition of language that did not allow for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual persons to be placed in leadership roles of the church as pastors or bishops. The Book of Discipline also had a number of other additions to it including the affirmation that only heterosexual persons could be married in the church by clergy. Every four years since this language was included in the Book of Discipline legislation and efforts have been brought to the General Conferences to delete or modify this language to be more inclusive of the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual community in acceptance and leadership within the United Methodist Church.

At the General Conference in 2016 the Council Bishops proposed and was accepted that a commission on a way forward would convene a special General Conference to be held in 2019, which would address the issue of inclusivity of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual persons. It has always been the position within the United Methodist Church that all of God’s children are equally loved by God and we as followers of Jesus Christ are to reflect that same love to everyone.

At this special session four proposals were made. The simple Plan, The Connectional Conference Plan, The One Church Plan and The Traditionalist Plan or if no acceptance could be made we would continue as a denomination with no change to the Book of Worship. The first day of the special session was the day of prayer, worship, meditation and inviting the Holy Spirit to become evident as a plan would be chosen to go forward. This Special General Session along with all other previous General Sessions, include representatives from our world of United Methodist. This includes not only those from the United States but all parts of the world where United Methodist live and have established churches under the leadership of conferences and bishops.

After some proposed amendments to each one of the four proposals were accepted voting began. The Traditionalist Plan was the only plan that passed the Special Session with an approval of 56% of the voting delegates. These voting delegates were made up of 864 representatives from laity and clergy throughout the world where Methodist Churches have been established. The Traditionalist Plan affirms the Book of Discipline as it written and keeps the current language in regards to the acceptance of gay, lesbian, transgender and queer persons since 1972. It does amend the legal ramifications for churches and clergy who knowingly and willingly violate the Book of Worship. It also provides for the exit of churches that are unwilling to accept the Book of Worship as it is currently written.

Over the past few years it has been accepted that not all within the United Methodist Church and the outside world be completely accepting of any of the plans proposed. No matter which plan would have come forward we know that some of God’s children would be hurt. Although we prayed over this difficulty within our denomination not all prayers were answered because of the differences we had and the different prayers offered to God.

What will happen in the immediate or long term is yet to be completely decided. For like the government of the United States when changes occur to the operating documents, a legal challenge can and has been put forward through our legal entity of the United Methodist Church. Should the Traditionalist Planned be approved by the judicial system of the United Methodist Church the Traditionalist Plan would be put into effect as of January 1, 2020.

Recently I held an information session for the Claybanks United Methodist Church on the Way Forward at which many of our members did attend. It is my plan to keep you informed as to where we are in this process of implementation as we go forward in 2019. I see many possibilities and recognize at our Annual Conference in Traverse City during the first few days of June being a time of further discussion and clarification as being one of the steps to our way forward. Please continue to hold the United Methodist Church and our leadership in your prayers.

Pastor Gary

Pastor’s Ponderings

Part Two: A Brief Bible History

Please recognize that in the short space of our newsletter we cannot do an extensive history of the Bible. In my course of study to become a United Methodist pastor, one of the classes that I took dealt with our Christian Bible. The Bible is reported to be the biggest best-seller of all time, and its history is fascinating to study. As God’s Spirit breathed on the authors of the Bible, they recorded the messages with whatever resources were available at the time. Oral history, engravings in clay, inscriptions on tablets of stone, ink and papyrus, parchment, leather and metals.

From creation to B.C. 2000 the earliest Scriptures were handed down from generation to generation orally. From B.C. 2000 to 1500 the oldest Books of the Bible were starting to be written. The earliest manuscripts comprising the original Hebrew Bible were completed in about B.C. 400. From about A.D. 45 to A.D. 100 the original 27 books of the New Testament were written and assembly started. From that time the Bible continued to evolve and in A.D. 397 the Third Synod of Carthage approved both the Old and New Testament in an accepted form breathed by the Holy Spirit.

The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew, with some of the books written in Aramaic. In A.D. 400 the original languages of the Old Testament and New Testament were translated into Latin. While Latin remain the traditional translation of Scripture in about A.D. 500 other language translations were starting to appear while the (universal) Catholic Church still declares Latin as the only language for Scripture. In A.D. 1382 the first English Bible was written in defiance of the organized church. Those who did the translation believed that people should be able to read the Bible in their own language. Up until this time all the reproductions of the Bible were done by scribes in Latin and in hand written form.

In A.D. 1455 after the invention of the printing press in Germany more and more translations became available. It was in A.D. 1536 that Martin Luther completed his work by translation the Bible into German. This translation is known as the Protestant Bible today. From that time on a number of different Bibles translation had been written working from the original text of Aramaic and Greek to what we know commonly today as the King James Version which was completed in A.D. 1611. This translation was called the, “Authorized Version”. And since that time a number of other translations have become available for our reading and understanding. Until the Gutenberg press first printed the Latin Bible in A.D. 1456, all Bibles were hand copied onto papyrus, parchment and paper.

When the Bible is translated into different languages it is usually translated from the original Hebrew and Greek writings. Over time, the accuracy of many of the manuscripts from our Old Testament and New Testament have been substantiated by archeological findings and recent findings such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, Geniza Fragments and the Ben Asher Manuscripts have continued to help us authenticate Scripture text. We as Christians believe God chose certain individuals to author sacred Scripture. Because God has chosen these individuals and they were affirmed by the Holy Spirit; we are to acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach the truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, does inspire us.

Pastor’s Ponderings

Which Is The Best Bible
One of the questions I get asked as a pastor is which Bible should I use? Now this is not an easy question to answer because depending on how you use your Bible will influence which Bible is best for you. As a pastor, I have favorite’s translations, but I have learned the value of using a number of different Bibles translations depending on a number of different criteria for what I am doing.

Many of us think of the King James Version when we think and speak about the Bible. The King James Version is very beautiful to read yet it is difficult for us to decipher for it was written in 1611, and our English language today has substantially changed from four centuries ago making it somewhat difficult to understand. Since the time of the creation of the King James Bible, we have had many different translations of Scripture from the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic text. Bibles are usually written at a reading level between the 3rd grade and 12th grade reading level. Shorter sentences, smaller word pool and avoiding uncommon words bring us the most basic translations that most of us can begin to understand.

There are more than 60 accepted English language versions of the Bible available to us today. They fall into three broad types: word for word, meaning to meaning (which is also called thought for thought) and paraphrase. Word for word versions most accurately follow the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek text. The King James Bible is the most popular version of word for word translations. Meaning for meaning versions can be valuable in putting the Scripture into more understandable wording and are based on the original textual writings. Examples of meaning for meaning Bibles are the New International Version (NIV), Revised English Bible (REB) and the New Revise Standard Version (NRSV) which was first published in 1989 and has become the preferred Bible to be use by the United Methodist Church. Paraphrase Bibles, such as the Living Bible or the Message can also be very useful in our understanding of scripture. Their goal is to make the Bible even easier to read in modern language. Paraphrase versions can be read to better grasp the story flow but at times possibly broaden the meaning of a particular text.  I find it very helpful to use a parallel Bible which contains two or more versions side-by-side on the same pages to be helpful. Indeed, when studying Scripture it is beneficial in looking at a multitude of versions of Scripture, but one will most likely be your primary version which best fits you personally.

Regardless of the Bible version you choose, the most important factor is that you actually use it. The Bible should be considered an investment in which a little more expense up front will pay off in the long run. Things to take in consideration when purchasing a Bible are you going to use it for study or will it primarily be used to take to church to read along with others. Wider margins will allow you to add notes from your personal study over the years. Leather bound Bibles will last longer than hardbound or paperback volumes. Reference Bibles are very good at helping you look at other Scripture texts related to the text you’re reading. Study Bibles have notes contained usually on the lower section that are commentaries on the Scripture. Some Bibles highlight the actual words of Jesus and usually are in red type. Other Bibles contain a large section of maps and extensive introduction to the different books of the Bible so that you get a flavor for who each book was written to and why.

We are blessed today because many versions of the Bible are now available as part of software packages either purchased as programs or for viewing on the Internet. I am finding an additional blessing and beginning to use it more and more when I pull out my smart phone and open up my Bible app at any time and any place as the Holy Spirit works in me. I know why they call it a “Smart Phone”.

I will be very glad to assist you and give direction to determine Bibles for you as we continue to journey in exploring God’s Word in Holy Scripture. The best Bible is the Bible that you read and Use!

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