January

January 2, 2013

Dear Centenary Friends,

I want to be a Kingdom person.   According to Richard Rohr, Kingdom people are surrendered people.  You sense that life is OK at their core.  A Kingdom person lives for what matters, for life in its deepest sense.  Gentleness and calm freedom are marks of their spirit.  Kingdom people are grounded, but are very gracious.  Whatever they are after, they already seem to be enjoying it.  Kingdom people are anchored by their awareness of God’s love deep within. 

One of my favorite authors, Marilynne Robinson, has this to say about living life as a Kingdom person:  “…The idea that you draw a line and say, The righteous people are on this side and the bad people are on the other side – this is not gracious…. To think that only faultless people are worthwhile seems like an incredible exclusion of almost everything of deep value in the human saga.  Sometimes I can’t believe the narrowness that has been attributed to God in terms of what he would approve and disapprove.” 

Yes, I want to be a Kingdom person.  The day when faith is based on doctrinal or creedal litmus tests must end.  God’s engagement with humans is about far more then “correct” belief.  Those who want to divide people by whether they believe “correctly” fail to understand the broadness of God’s love.  Martin Marty puts it this way:  “The plot of the 66 canonical books in the Bible, for all its zigs and zags, shows the generosity of God.”  Amen to that. 

New Year resolutions are normally short-lived.  Why not simply strive to be a Kingdom person?  No doubt that you and I will fail at points, but when we look at the larger picture, it is the desire to be a Kingdom person that gives us a sense of being grounded.  It is our identity.  And make a note of this:  Being a gracious and loving Kingdom person will drive some people crazy, particularly religious types who have yet to let go of their firmly held belief that we are ushered into God’s presence by  “correct” belief.  Love those folks too, but don’t for a minute think that their way of seeing God’s nature is the only way to experience God.

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I will be preaching a sermon about The Magi this Sunday, January 6.  I titled my sermon “The Story – Part 2”.  The scripture is Matthew 2:1-12.  I hope you will be present.

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Looking for a place to get connected? Meet others from the Centenary Community? Explore opportunities to discover your gifts and serve? During the month of January we will gather in the downstairs classroom for an informal time of Coffee, Conversation & Get Connected . Join us beginning January 6th at 9:45 !

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Thank you for your generous year-end gifts to Centenary and to the Christmas Offering for Centenary Community Ministries, Inc.  (CCMI).   Amazing generosity from many sources was evident.  We enter 2013 blessed as a faith community.

Grace and peace,

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.

www.centenarymacon.org


January 9, 2013

 

Dear Centenary Friends,

Sometimes I stumble across something that I wish I had written!  Below you will find a short piece by Adam Hamilton, a United Methodist pastor from Kansas City.  It is a timely piece, and extremely well-written.  Read and reflect.

Put God Back in Public Schools?

One reaction to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been a call to "put God back in the schools." I even heard one person suggest that the violence that happened in the school was because "we took God out of public schools." As a pastor I have a deep desire to lead people to God and encourage people to pray, read the Bible, and carry their faith into every part of their lives. But I've got a few questions about "putting God back in the schools."

In America our public schools are intended to be religiously neutral. Our teachers and schools are neither to endorse nor to inhibit religion. I believe this is a very good thing. When my kids were growing up I wanted their teachers to teach them science, reading, math and history. I also wanted them to care about my kids. But I did not want my children's public school teachers teaching them religion. That was my job as a parent, and the job of our church, Sunday school and youth group.

If we're going to put God back in schools, which God are we talking about? Within the Christian family alone there are often dramatically different ways of talking about God: fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals, Pentecostals, Charismatics, moderates, progressives, liberals, Calvinists and Arminians, high-church and low-church -- and these are just the Protestants! Add in Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and a host of groups that are often said to be outside the mainstream, and you can begin to see the dilemma.

And while 78 percent of all Americans claim to be Christians, 22 percent claim another faith or no faith. If these numbers are applied to teachers, this would mean that one in five teachers may be Hindu or Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist, atheist or agnostic. Few of the folks calling for "putting God back in schools" seem to be okay with people outside of the Christian faith teaching their children about God.

The religious neutrality in our schools is, I would argue, one of our strengths. Teachers cannot inhibit or deride religion. But this does not mean that we've taken God out of public schools. I'm reminded of the book of Esther in the Bible. God is not explicitly mentioned in the book, but that did not mean that God was not at work in the story.

Christians believe that God is everywhere and is involved in our lives at every moment, whether we publicly acknowledge God or not. Most of the teachers I've met in public schools are people of faith. For many, their faith shapes how they approach their work as teachers. It strengthens, informs, and inspires them to love their students and to pursue their work with excellence. As in the book of Esther, they may not explicitly mention God, but God works through them nonetheless.

Students also bring their faith into the schools. They are free to pray any time, provided they are not disruptive. They are free to talk about their faith, provided they are not belligerent or hurtful to other students.

Finally, there are many ways that churches and other religious groups may partner with public schools, provided that they are not seeking to evangelize. In the Kansas City area, the church I serve has partnered with six elementary schools in which a majority of the students live near the poverty line. We build playgrounds for these schools and paint and rehab their buildings. We fund literacy efforts and provide free books. We ensure that each child has a winter coat, gloves and hat, and school supplies, and we provide funds for special programs the schools otherwise could not afford. We also have tutoring programs with hundreds of volunteers who read to children and otherwise help the teachers and support their work. Every Friday we send backpacks with nutritious snacks home with 1,400 children who are at risk of being hungry on the weekends. We also distribute beds for children who we discover are sleeping on the floor in their homes. Our people are motivated by their faith to do these things. They don't talk about their faith, but it is clearly seen in their actions.

I'm convinced many of America's heroes are public school teachers and administrators. Many of these people do what they do because of their faith. We don't need mandatory, non-sectarian prayers read over the loudspeaker to "put God back in schools." God never left the schools. God is still at work through the hundreds of thousands of gifted teachers and administrators, committed parents and passionate volunteers who seek to help give our children "a future with hope."

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The GLBT community at Centenary is holding a pot-luck lunch after church this Sunday in a classroom below the sanctuary.  You are invited.   Bring a dish to share. 

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I will be preaching this Sunday from Isaiah 43:1-7.  “Comfort, comfort my people, speak tenderly to Jerusalem… do not be afraid, I will be with you.”  My sermon is titled, “Called by Name”.  I look forward to seeing you in worship!

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.

www.centenarymacon.org 

 


January 24, 2013

Dear Centenary friends,

404 years ago (1609), Galileo looked into a crude telescope and found that some of the assertions of the Bible about the nature of the universe were untrue.  When Galileo stated what he viewed in the telescope, the church was threatened. 

What caused the rift between the church and Galileo?  It was the telescope.  The telescope, combined with his keen gift of observation, contradicted what had been assumed for thousands of years.  Galileo’s most startling claim was that the solar system was not geocentric (with earth at the center), rather it was heliocentric (with the planets revolving around the sun).  In our day this assertion does not seem radical at all.  Few would maintain that the earth is the center of the universe any more than we believe that the earth is flat.  However, in the 17th century this revelation threatened biblical truth.

Galileo was not seeking to cause problems with the church as he carried out his research.  A deeply devout man of faith, Galileo wrote: “I render infinite thanks to God for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries.”   

Now here is the rest of the story:  Many of Galileo’s contemporaries fiercely resisted his findings.  In fact, some refused to look through the telescope for fear of what they would see.  The Pope summoned Galileo to Rome, where an inquisition found him “vehemently suspect of heresy” and placed him under house arrest from 1632-1642.  But the church eventually corrected the error of its ways --- in 1990.  Can you believe that it took 350 years for the church to get it right?

Be careful, however, about thinking that this type of incident does not happen in modern culture.  There are many in the church who refuse to look in the telescope for fear of what they might see.  Faith, for some, is like falling into a comatose state where there can be no questioning of the Bible.  Galileo’s evidence brought about a direct conflict with the Bible.  Such a conflict was untenable, so the church refused to look in the telescope.

Jesus relished looking into the telescope and discovering new things about the nature of God!  Let’s get this straight – Jesus was a radical.  While he was a devout Jew, he challenged religious authority.  He even reinterpreted (and dismissed) some sections of Old Testament scripture. At the least he was a revisionist and a re-interpreter.  The religious elite of his day were threatened because Jesus looked into a telescope and spoke truth.  Something had to be done about this radical Jesus!  He was a heretic!   His interpretation (or hermeneutic) challenged the prevailing understanding of the nature of God.  Looking through the telescope and speaking what he saw got Jesus killed.

Now the church in many settings has taken this lively, amazing, life-giving, spirit-enhancing, passionate, dancing, gadfly, unorthodox, loving Jesus and put him in a mind-numbing, deadening, comatose straightjacket of orthodoxy.  That which was radically unorthodox has become orthodoxy.  There are many who worship orthodoxy more than they worship Jesus!  Holy people in Jesus’ day ultimately could not stand his re-interpretation of Old Testament scripture as he openly questioned certain passages.  The One who danced God’s love had to be silenced.  So He died… at the hands of holy people who did not want anything to change. 

Join me at the telescope.  The telescope does not threaten our faith.  Jesus is standing at the telescope, encouraging us as we search for truth and faith.  He talks about dispelling ancient misunderstandings about the Bible.  His eyes sparkle as he becomes animated in his discussion of the nature of God.  “Do not fear the telescope”, he says.  “I am Life!   God has a sense of humor!  Follow me!  Dance with me!  Lay down your life!  Consider the lilies of the field!  Don’t take yourself so seriously!  Understand what is of ultimate importance!  Love God!  Love Others!  Love Yourself!  Serve!” 

If you want to know more about Galileo, read a book titled Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel.  This exceptionally well-written book is one of my all-time favorites.

Share Your Story!  We invite all who are interested to share something from their heart --- a story, a poem, a photograph, a painting to be included in a Lenten booklet.  The deadline is rapidly approaching… We need it by Sunday.  For more information or to submit your “gift”, contact Caroline Nickel at cnickel43@gmail.com or call her at 478-508-0828.  Stories should be kept to around 250 words.  We want this to be reflective of the Centenary community – far and wide.  Wherever you may reside, if you are blessed by the Centenary community, you are invited to respond.

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Get ready for the 2nd Annual Centenary Chili Cook off – Wednesday, February 6 at 6 pm.  We need lots of people to participate!  Contact Talisa at Talisa@centenarymacon.org  for more information.

Grace and peace,

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.

www.centenarymacon.org