The Language of Jesus

I could see that she was struggling. An elderly woman was shuffling down the hall carrying two big boxes in one arm and dragging a huge bag of clothing behind her with the other arm. I asked her, “May I help you? Where do you want to go?”

She said in a thick accent, “Down,” so I walked her to the elevator. “What’s in your boxes?” “Christmas decorations.” “Wonderful! Are you going to check out?” “Yes. I change doctor’s appointment to come here.” “I am so glad you came to our Rummage Sale. What is your native language?” What she said next sounded like “Babylonian.” I said that I wasn’t sure what language that was, and she replied, “Jesus language.”

IMG_0477As another volunteer appeared to guide her through the checkout process, I said to her, “This is our language, too! We all speak the language of Jesus here. God bless you.” “You, too,” she smiled, and we parted ways. I still don’t know my new friend’s country of origin, but it doesn’t matter because we understood each other. Our language is love for all.

For sixty years our local church has been sponsoring twice a year Rummage Sales that attract thousands of people from all over the Detroit Metro area and even adjoining states. Led by a ten-person team from the United Methodist Women, twenty paid workers, forty managers in twenty-seven departments and seven hundred volunteers, the Rummage Sale raises thousands of dollars for mission. Except for the sanctuary, chapel and staff offices, our entire campus is transformed into a department store for six days. Approximately five thousand volunteer hours were devoted to the Rummage Sale last week, with a preacher’s estimate of one hundred thousand items donated, from sofas to stuffed animals.

How does a Rummage Sale speak the language of Jesus?  By empowering others to be generous.
20160424-IMG_6130On the first day of set-up, I wore one of my Rummage outfits over my clergy robe in worship to encourage people to donate, volunteer and buy. At the last service, I issued a challenge for someone to purchase my funky multi-colored sweater jacket for $500, even after one youth in the choir shouted out, “That jacket is ugly!” Within minutes of the end of the service, a man stepped forward and said, “I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters who will love this!” When the check arrived a few days later, it was for $1,000, quite a bit more than the average price of a Rummage Sale item, which is one dollar.

Any church can put on a Rummage Sale, whether large or small, and any person can find a way to be generous by donating, volunteering or buying. In order to help our donors, we send drivers out in trucks to pick up large pieces of furniture. Men in the church parking lot are ready to unload cars. Whoever volunteers five hours or more is permitted to shop at a pre-sale where there is a 30% mark-up. Teenagers are encouraged to volunteer, and children can help their parents. Sitting jobs are given to our older volunteers.

A Rummage Sale is a wonderful way to model for our children and youth what it means to have enough and to share what they have with other children whose families cannot afford to buy new clothes and toys. It’s also an opportunity to teach children who have money to recycle, upcycle and appreciate things that aren’t new.

How does a Rummage Sale speak the language of Jesus?  By becoming a melting pot of people from different nations, languages, ethnicities and incomes, with varied needs and desires but united by our common humanity.

Our Rummage Sale is like a mini United Nations where we are continually learning about cross-cultural sensitivity, not making assumptions about others and treating every shopper with respect and grace.

During the Rummage Sale, people speak many different languages, wear distinctive clothing and are often looking for particular items. On closing day, when shoppers can stuff as much as they can into a bag for $10.00, one woman was buying clothes to send to her family in Mexico. Another woman was shipping her clothes to Pakistan and another to the Congo.

Still another was picking out suits for her daughter who teaches at a college in Wisconsin, where many of the graduates don’t have enough money to purchase suits for job interviews. A funeral home director was purchasing suits so that elderly men who have died in nursing homes can be buried in nice clothing. Prices are so low that everyone can leave with beautiful clothing. A gorgeous men’s sweater on the rack still had the price tag attached, $500. It sold for $2.

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The Rummage Sale speaks the language of Jesus by demonstrating that we live in a world that is far more diverse than our own communities often indicate. We are reminded that for some, Rummage shopping is a hobby where we love finding deals, meeting new people and supporting mission. But for others, Rummage Sale shopping is for survival, and there are few other options. The opportunity to interact with and get to know people who are not like us enlarges our borders. Welcoming, honoring and learning from all of our shoppers is a necessary part of our faith.

How does a Rummage Sale speak the language of Jesus?  By reminding us that the love of Jesus for our world and our love for Jesus and others motivate everything we do. During the Rummage Sale, we all speak the Jesus language, whether we claim Jesus as our Lord or not. We honor other religions and expressions of faith at the same time as we acknowledge that the Jesus language of love crosses all boundaries.

Mission is our purpose, mission is our goal and mission is our lifeblood. Every aspect of the Rummage Sale is a response to our love for Jesus and our desire to serve our community and world in multiple ways.

  • We encourage church and community members to recycle their clothing and household goods instead of taking them to the landfill.
  • The Rummage Sale is a doorway into a community of faith for unchurched or de-churched people in the area. Non-members are able to volunteer when sponsored by a church member.
  • Theological reflection on materialism, stuff and the meaning of “enough” abounds.
  • We sell items at inexpensive prices so they are affordable to all.
  • We invite local non-profit organizations to come after hours to take whatever they need, free of charge.
  • An inexpensive café run by volunteer cooks provides wonderful food for volunteers and shoppers.
  • Department managers are encouraged to creatively arrange their rooms and secure helpers.
  • A post-Rummage Sale meeting is devoted to evaluation and suggestions for improving all aspects of the sale.

Hours after the sale is over, everything is packed up, several local ministries take everything that is left and the church building looks as if nothing ever happened that week. We are tired, but God has been glorified. We made new friends, bought some good stuff, modeled crazy clothes and had lots of good laughs. Most of all, we spoke the language of Jesus, people were served, each one felt valued and our rummage is on its way to the far corners of our world: a sure sign that the Kingdom of God is in our midst. After expenses, every penny raised from the Rummage Sale is given to missions at home and around the world that serve and empower women and children.

Any church can offer this powerful ministry! All you need is some stuff, a few volunteers and the love language of Jesus.

Blessings,

Laurie

Don’t Count Out the Holy Spirit!

Every day I pray for our United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Oregon. I am praying that God will use our delegates and the decisions we make to witness to God’s amazing love for our world and its people. I am praying for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in The United Methodist Church to give us the energy and will to use our differences as a catalyst for creative ministry and outreach. And I am praying that we will recognize and claim the hope of our faith, which empowers us to bring in the kingdom for all of God’s children.

Don’t count out the Holy Spirit because we help those who seek food but are given bullets.  A week ago my pastor friend Max Maregmen in the Philippines sent me this email. “Last week, while we were having our Annual Conference session here in Cebu City, thousands of hungry farmers marched into our school and church vicinity in Kidapawan City Mindanao (we have same Bishop). They were asking for food from the government because of the El Nino phenomenon, which is resulting in water and food shortages. They were dispersed with guns after three days of negotiations, leaving three farmers dead and hundreds landed in prisons (aged and pregnant women and children were included). It is sad news, but it happened. Our Bishop Ciriaco Francisco was also charged with harboring illegal protesters.

“As we did our feeding program last Saturday (every Saturday since August), I can’t help but shed tears, remembering those hungry people seeking food but given bullets (many of them arrested and jailed) when I prayed for the food and children we are feeding…”

As angels here in Michigan provide assistance for Pastor Max to continue feeding those who need food but are often given only bullets, and as angels the world over help each other so that all people can live whole and healthy lives, I still despair at times. Why is it that we give other people bullets instead of the physical and spiritual food that sustains their bodies and spirits?  Why do we criticize instead of coach? Why do we reject instead of encourage? Why do we focus more on what separates than what unites? Lord, have mercy. Yet I refuse to count out the Holy Spirit.

Don’t count out the Holy Spirit because lives are changed every day through the ministries of The United Methodist Church. I hear these testimonies all the time from United Methodists, especially new members.

  • 04-25-16 IMG_0429The Holy Spirit set our church on fire this morning as eighty middle and high school students led worship through Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass. The future of the church is in great hands!
  • Our friends from your church invited us here, and we love it!
  • From a teenager: God is calling me to a deeper church experience. I love it all!
  • We are starting a family and want our children to learn about the love of Jesus.
  • Through the church we have so many ways to serve our community and the world.
  • Every time I come here, five or six people that I don’t even know welcome me. I feel as if I belong here.
  • Worship both inspires and challenges us to wrestle with how to live in this world as a disciple of Christ.
  • My soul is flourishing here, and Jesus is real to me for the very first time.
  • I love being in a church where we don’t all think the same, yet we can love and serve together.

 Don’t count out the Holy Spirit because The United Methodist Church is a vessel of grace for our world. 

In a recent article about new churches, The United Methodist Church scored high marks. The 2015 LifeWay report indicated that United Methodist new church starts were more successful in three of five benchmarks than other Protestant denominations: average worship attendance, new decisions for Christ and reaching previously unchurched people.

According to Bob Crossman, New Church Strategist for Path 1, a division of Discipleship Ministries, “I believe the survey shows us verifiable proof that the efforts of our annual conferences to improve our church planting process is yielding positive results. It also shows that we need to be not only encouraging our existing churches to become stronger and more viable, but we need to be continuing to start new churches and new places that reach new people.”

We become vessels of grace when we are willing to try bold, innovative and relevant ministries to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. A friend recently sent me this Thomas Jefferson quote from panel four of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” Is your church keeping pace with the times?

Don’t count out the Holy Spirit because our delegates to General Conference have amazing hopes and dreams for The United Methodist Church. They also have the spiritual maturity and will to make whatever changes are necessary in order to spread scriptural holiness across the land and be nimble and responsive to human need. In a recent conference call with a group of General Conference delegates, I heard these hopes for General Conference.

  • I hope that we will treat each other with respect.
  • I hope that we will come with open hands and a spirit of letting go so that we discover God’s will together.
  • I hope that we become a movement again, not an organization.
  • I hope that others will see in us a model for how to love that they want reflected in their own lives.
  • I hope that we will celebrate our differences instead of simply acknowledge them.
  • I hope that we have an experience of personal and social holiness that will leave us changed.
  • I hope that we can stay mission-focused and that the Holy Spirit will give us a vision of the future.

04-25-16 12626138_10207258251367408_1007284701_nIn 34 years of ministry, Pastor Max has planted five new churches, all of which are still in existence. First UMC, Cebu City, was dying when Pastor Max arrived in June 2015 (15 adults average attendance), but today an average of 58 adults attend, some of whom are parents of children who are offered food, not bullets.

Pastor Max ended his email to me with these words of challenge and witness. “My message yesterday was from the gospel lectionary. Feeding my lambs and sheep. What a test of our faith!  Making disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world is not an easy task.”

I’m not counting out the Holy Spirit. And neither is Max. How about you?

 Blessings,

Laurie

P.S. I am a candidate for the episcopacy in the North Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church.  If you would like to check out my episcopal website, click here, www.lauriehaller.org/candidate or click on the word “candidate” at the top of this blog.

The Character of a Methodist – Lois Style

 

She put the rest of us to shame. Even when she had Alzheimer’s and had difficulty remembering, she never forgot who she was and who God created her to be. God made Lois Moseley to be a Methodist. Lois, age 74, life-long advocate for children and social justice issues, died gracefully and peacefully a week ago. The remembrances came quickly from around the country.

  • Tireless champion for the least, the last and the lost.
  • A fearless voice when things weren’t right.
  • Love for the church and ability to challenge what she loved.
  • Such a good woman of principle and courage who made us think and stretch.
  • There are no words to express what the world has lost.
  • Lois was a force of nature in all of the very best ways.
  • She was the reason I became a tutor for Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy, for her passion for this ministry was something to behold.
  • May she read in the company of angels forevermore.
  • A hero of mine in every way.
  • She was so irreverent and funny, but more than that, she was good.

2016-04-18_0950_imageLois’ obituary will tell you that she was a life-long Methodist who was a first-grade teacher, East Grand Rapids (MI) city commissioner for eight years and mayor for six months. She served on too-many-to-count local church, district and conference committees, was active in United Methodist Women at all levels and was a delegate to General and Jurisdictional Conference. She had a beloved husband Skip, two children and five grandchildren.

Lois’ greatest loves were making sure that there was a place at the table for all people and ensuring that every child had the opportunity for an excellent education. Lois’ signature ministry was a tutoring program that she and Kathy Muir started twenty-five years ago through First United Methodist Church at inner city Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Several church staff members and dozens of volunteer tutors are present every week at the school, and tens of thousands of dollars flow through MLK Jr. Academy every year from First Church and other grants.

For thirteen years I was one of Lois’ pastors, but I was also her friend, colleague and the object of her “evangelism” at times. Quite simply put, Lois had the character of a Methodist according to the standards of John Wesley’s sermon, The Character of a Methodist.  It’s must reading for anyone who seeks to live the Wesleyan way.

Here is what John Wesley says Methodists are NOT. Methodists are not distinguished by their opinions, words, actions, customs or focusing only on one part of religion: i.e. that we are saved by faith alone. Of course, it’s universally attested that Lois had many opinions, and she freely shared them with anyone who would listen. One of Lois’ friends said after the memorial service, “I saw this sign in a store that describes Lois perfectly! ‘I’m not bossy.  I just know what you should be doing.’”

I confess that as a young pastor I was intimidated at times by the force of Lois’ personality and her insistent focus on social justice. I cannot think of anyone who was more passionate than Lois. She was a person of words, actions and persuasion who prodded me to become a better pastor and leader. But that was not the heart of Lois.

Wesley goes on to ask, “What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist? … A Methodist is one who has ‘the love of God shed abroad in her heart by the Holy Ghost given unto her,’ one who ‘loves the Lord her God with all her heart, and with all her soul, and with all her mind and with all her strength.’” Those words describe the essence of Lois Moseley. Lois was a person who was constantly learning. Lois and Skip took Disciple Bible Study 1, then 2, then 3, then Christian Believer. They taught Sunday school, sang in the choir and were youth leaders. Lois was the West Michigan Conference Facilitator for twelve years.

Wherever she went, Lois advocated for the marginalized, the forgotten, the neglected and the abused. She and Skip were the founders of The Methodist Connection, a collaboration of First UMC and two African-American Methodist congregations in Grand Rapids that still exists. When United Methodist Community House was in serious financial crisis, Lois led the way in raising the necessary funds. Lois gave all of the love that she had to the cause of Christ.

John Wesley also says in his sermon that a Methodist is “happy in God” and “rejoices in the Lord always.” A Methodist “has learned in whatsoever state she is, therewith to be content.” I am sure Lois would have it out with Wesley on this statement.

Lois was never content with the status quo. She was not content with racism or inner city schools who did not enjoy the same funding as wealthy suburban schools. She was not content with anyone being excluded from the church because of their skin color, ethnic background or sexual orientation. She was not content with Christians offering a pittance of financial support to the church when they earned large salaries. She was not content with children who came to MLK Jr. Academy without coats, socks, boots or mittens. Because Lois was filled with holy discontent, she was compelled to advocate for many outreach ministries in the name of Jesus Christ.

Wesley sums up the character of a Methodist by saying, “As she has time, she ‘does good unto all people’: unto neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies. And she is willing to ‘spend and be spent’ … so they may ‘all come unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’”

Lois’ passionate heart was also a pure heart. She loved her neighbors even if she disagreed with them. Lois was intentional in keeping connected with those who held different views at the same time as she stayed the course with her pleas for justice.

In The Character of a Methodist, John Wesley says, “And the tree is known by its fruits. For as she loves God, so she keeps God’s commandments; not only some, or most of them, but all, from the last to the greatest.” Lois produced luscious fruit throughout her life, fruit that will grow forever in the lives of those she touched.

As Lois was receiving Hospice care at the end of her life, a young social worker was meeting with Lois and Skip. After a while, she said to Lois, “I think I know you. Were you a tutor at MLK Leadership Academy at one time?” Turns out Lois was this young woman’s tutor in elementary school. Because of Lois and the tutoring program of First UMC, this young woman was able to rise above the circumstances of her life to become a caring and very capable social worker. Her gratitude was deep.

The most powerful memory I have of Lois is not known by anyone. For twenty years, Lois and Skip lived within blocks of us in East Grand Rapids. One time Gary and I were dealing with a family crisis that took us away for the evening from our two younger children, who were in elementary and middle school.  Lois and Skip offered to take our children out for dinner at Arnie’s, engaged them in lively conversation and stayed at our house until later in the evening when we arrived home.  I will never forget the depth of their love for our family when we needed support ourselves.

Lois and Skip’s son Scott concluded his remarks at the memorial service with these words, “If you want to honor Lois’ memory, speak out against injustice; vote; help a child to read; have the courage to do the right thing, even if it is not popular; and show respect to those with whom you disagree. The best thing you can leave for others is your example.”

John Wesley put it this way at the end of his sermon. “Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thine? I ask no farther question. If it be, give me thy hand. For opinions, or terms, let us not destroy the work of God. Dost thou love and serve God? It is enough. I give thee the right hand of fellowship.”

In the end, it was enough for Lois to have had the privilege of serving her God. She had the character of a Methodist – Lois style. Who will take up the mantle?

Blessings,

Laurie