Going Across the Pond

old-rectory-epworthToday was a day that I thought would be fairly typical. Instead, today turned out to be a day that I received some unexpected good news.

Every year, Discipleship Ministries – an agency within the United Methodist Church – sponsors a pilgrimage to England where pilgrims are immersed in early Methodist history. Places such as the Old Rectory, the New Room, and the Aldersgate Monument are seen. Worship is done at places such as Salisbury Methodist Church, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Along with all of that are lectures and other opportunities for learning, fellowship, and getting to really soak up the places and faces of the early movement which became Methodism.

If this sounds like the dream trip that should be on every Metho-nerd’s bucket list, that’s because it is.

Ever since I found out about this pilgrimage I have wanted to go. Last year I applied for a scholarship and was turned down. I was disappointed but, truthfully, I also knew that (1) there would be other opportunities to apply again and (2) it probably would not have been a good idea to try and squeeze in this trip just after relocating to a new state. When the applications for year’s pilgrimage opened, I immediately applied. Today I received an email with a response.

This year’s answer was “Congratulations!”

I’m very excited, humbled, and count myself blessed to have this opportunity to experience the sights where John and Charles Wesley, Francis Asbury, Thomas Coke, and many others were instrumental in beginning what would become a movement that continues to impact the world today. I am eager to not only learn about these places but to see and experience them in person.

I am also eager to enjoy some fish and chips.

I have no doubt that this will enhance the education I am currently pursuing and will give me a greater appreciation for the branch of Christianity that I am part of. I pray that this has a positive and lasting impact in my life as a pastor.

Some other things I’m excited about: Experiencing another country and being able to spend time in places such as Stonehenge and London. I am excited to finally have a reason to apply for my passport and I look forward to my first trans-Atlantic airplane ride (which I will hopefully sleep through). I am looking forward to meeting new colleagues and making new friends. To say that I am just overall excited would be an understatement!

So here I come in July, England! Consider yourselves warned.

Jonathan

Sermon: “What’s The Fuss?”

Shiloh-UMC-logo-final-webI wrote and preached this sermon last week at Shiloh as a reminder of what we celebrate on Thursday (Thanksgiving) as well as a reminder of why we will celebrate Christmas in December. It’s all about perspective. I incorporated some material from the sermon I preached at the community Thanksgiving service at Stanton Baptist Church last week. I had several people tell me that it served as a great reminder of the true purpose for the holidays as well as a means of centering in preparation for the craziness. I hope you find a blessing from reading this sermon (it’s not perfect and I did end up throwing in a couple more thoughts while I preached but, more or less, here it is).

In Christ,
Jonathan

“What’s The Fuss?”
A Sermon Preached at Shiloh United Methodist Church – Stanton, KY
Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos
November 22, 2015

John 18:33-37 (NRSV) – Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Today is one of the days on the church calendar called “Christ the King” Sunday, which is when we remember and celebrate the kingship of Jesus. Next week we will begin the season of Advent which is a time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ. It is extremely easy to forget that the “stuff” of the season is not why we are celebrating. The reason we celebrate is the one who would be born in a stable and grow up to be the greatest king the world has ever known. So today, I want us to spend this time together remembering what all the fuss is about.

We have all been there. Let me tell you about one of the experiences of holiday craziness I witnessed. I was a teenager and we arrived at my grandmother’s house early on Thanksgiving. We actually arrived earlier than normal because my grandmother had called and said she was overwhelmed and needed some help getting the thanksgiving meal prepared. We arrived and Moo, as we called her, looked flustered. I’m don’t remember exactly what happened but she had some sort of mishap in the kitchen and also had found out that a few more people were coming than she had expected. I do remember her saying this: “I just don’t understand why I go through all this fuss.”

I remembered that incident and those words recently when I was working on an assignment for one of my classes at Asbury. The assignment was to write a column for a church newsletter about the Christmas season called “What’s The Fuss about Christmas” in which the object was to remind church members of the purpose of the holiday season, specifically why we are supposed to be celebrating Christmas. We tend to ponder that a lot as we go through all the hustle and bustle of the year. We forget about the main purpose because it gets lost in all of the stuff we are expected to do. We wonder why we should even bother with preparing a feast for Thanksgiving and why we go to the trouble of decorating for Christmas and making such a big deal out of things like the Cantata or any number of other things.

It’s obvious to state that the reason we celebrate Thanksgiving is because we want to take some time to give thanks to God for seeing us through, for providing for our needs and simply to thank him for loving us. Just as the pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock did, we give thanks. The fuss is worth it because it is a correction to our egos to remember how blessed we are and how grateful we should be for even the smallest things. For example: When was the last time you gave a quick word of thanks to the man who picks up your trash so that you can live in a safe and healthy house? When was the last time you thanked the clerk at the grocery store? When was the last time you thanked God for even the things that make us frustrated like our computers, TVs and cell phones? Giving thanks helps us to keep our priorities in line with God’s will and is an important correction to our egos.

Does anyone remember the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special? I love Charlie Brown because I can relate to him in so many ways, namely how he often undertakes things with the best of intentions but he just ends up making a mess of it. In the Thanksgiving special Peppermint Patty invites herself to Charlie Brown’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and then Lucy and Franklin are invited by Patty. Charlie Brown finds himself in a mess because he is supposed to go to his grandmother’s for a meal with his family. Linus convinces Charlie Brown that he can have two Thanksgiving meals and to prepare one for him and his friends. So Charlie Brown sets out to prepare a feast but it’s not exactly traditional. When the gang sits down for their meal, Linus leads them in a prayer and then the food service begins.

By the time it’s all said and done each kid ends up with an ice cream sundae, two slices of buttered toast, and a handful each of pretzel sticks, popcorn, and jelly beans. Peppermint Patty is not happy and has some harsh words for Charlie Brown, who leaves the table in shame. Peppermint Patty gets a reminder that she invited herself over; eventually she apologizes to Charlie Brown. All ends up well because the gang all end up being able to go to Charlie Brown’s grandmother’s house to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Does this kind of sound like what happens at your house around Thanksgiving? We prepare a meal and someone complains. Then you start to wonder why you even undertook this project in the first place. Thanksgiving is a good reminder that it’s not about us. It’s not about the turkey, the sides or the parades. Thanksgiving, at its core, is a reminder that we should be thankful to God His provision, his protection and for his love. It’s out of this love hat he came to us in the form of a baby who from his birth was the great king that had been long expected and excitedly anticipated. That’s the fuss about Thanksgiving. The fuss is we give thanks not for how we have gained but for what God has given.

Although Thanksgiving is our next holiday and I certainly believe in taking the one at a time I know we have all been thinking about our Christmas plans. As a church we have been practicing for the upcoming cantata and I have been planning our Advent sermons and some other special times of worship that you will hear more about soon. I hope that you are looking forward to Advent as we prepare for Christmas. Even more, I hope you’re looking forward to Christmas as a time that we celebrate the birth of Christ our savior. But I know that Christmas and the preparation for it causes a lot of stress. Perhaps you’re even now asking, “What’s all the fuss about Christmas and why is it worthy of my effort?”

The fuss about Christmas is something called the incarnation. Just in case you don’t know, what I’m referring to is the coming of God in the form of Jesus Christ. The incarnation is vital to our salvation story because without it, there would be no point. Without the coming of the long promised messiah there would be no need for us to celebrate Good Friday or Easter or really to have much hope because we would still be expected to keep the commandments and the other rules and such found in the Old Testament to the letter. Oh, we could repent but in order for our sins to be atoned for there has to be blood spilled. Again, we can look through the Old Testament to see all of the ways in which atonement for our sins could be achieved and none of it is pleasant or pretty. From the very beginning, God planned to do something to reveal Himself to us and to bring us once and for all His grace and mercy.

The incarnation is how God reveals himself to us. You see, Jesus was born just as any other baby was. The only difference was that this baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit and therefore was divine. He was God, yet he was also fully human. John 1:14 says, “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” The incarnation of Christ is vital and even is one of the central tenants of our faith.

Let me put it this way: As with anything else, certain conditions have to be met in order for something to work. In order for a light bulb to work properly, there has to be a power source, wires to transmit the electricity, a socket connected to the wires and that acts as a way for the lightbulb to, in turn, be powered by the electricity and to shine bright. A switch is also helpful so that the power can be turned on or off (and so we can sleep at night). Without any of these things, the lightbulb will not be illuminated and we are left in the dark.

Jesus works he same way. Without His being born like you and I were, without Him having lived among us, without His having taught, healed and performing miracles, without Him having been nailed to a cross, died and then being resurrected three days later, God’s work to reconcile us to Him would not have been completed. It is a wonderful thing when you really think about it. God came to the world as a human being, grew up from a tiny baby, and lived among us. He did all of this to draw us closer to Him by drawing closer to us. Without His coming and living among us as one of us, this mission would not have been fulfilled.

In his book Miracles, C.S. Lewis wrote: The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation. There is no question in Christianity of arbitrary interferences just scattered about. It relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of a strategically coherent invasion—an invasion which intends complete conquest and “occupation.” The fitness, and therefore credibility, of the particular miracles depends on their relation to the Grand Miracle; all discussion of them in isolation from it is futile.

That’s what the fuss about Christmas is all about. Jesus Christ, being born in a stable after being turned away from proper housing. A tiny baby who, at a young age, had to flee to Egypt with his human parents to see refuge from a plot to kill him. A child who would grow up to teach in the temple and overturn the stranglehold the temple elite had over the people. This divine man who would perform miracles, demonstrate mercy, and teach us the way. It’s all about Jesus who would do what no other king in history would willingly do: Lay down his life for the entire world, including people who were not even born yet. And he would go on to cement his title as the king of kings by being raised from the dead on the third day. All of this is out of God’s abundant love for us! All of this so that all who believe in him could be restored and reconciled to God as well as enjoy eternal life with him rather than suffer apart from him.

As we go through these next few busy weeks, let us remember that the fuss is ultimately about God. The fuss is about being thankful for God’s love, both in how he provides for our needs so richly and for his becoming human so that we can be healed of our sins. May we remember that the fuss is about the ultimate ruler, the King of Kings whose kingdom includes us. May we remember that the fuss we are making is a fuss to make much of Jesus.

My Testimony

The following is a testimony that I’ve typed out. At the request of a couple of my Twitter followers (speaking of Twitter, you can find me here), here it is in blog form. God bless!

Many of my earliest memories involve church. From as early as they could, my parents had me in church as much as possible. However, this wasn’t always possible because I spent a large percentage of my childhood in a hospital bed. I can remember many instances where my pastor or the hospital chaplain would visit and pray, where other people would pray and of course my parents would pray. I was told about Jesus at an early age so I have a hard time finding a time where I never believed. Jesus was a part of my life from the beginning.

As I got older and learned more about the faith, I joined my church and became active in the youth group. There were many times where I questioned whether I was really saved or if I was playing church. One evening when I was about 16, my youth group went to a play at a Meridian church. The drama deeply affected me and I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t spend an eternity in Hell. When the invitation was given, I responded.

Later on I graduated high school and went to college and I did the things that college kids do but I always knew that I was doing wrong and that Jesus expected more of me. However, much to my detriment, I continued down a bad road. Eventually I moved to Indiana and it became even worse, mainly because for the first time in my life I was truly on my own and thought I could do anything I wanted to without consequence. You name it, I did it.

One night when I was about 25 I was laying in bed, having problems sleeping because I kept thinking of all the junk in my life. The Holy Spirit had been working on me for quite some time and that night He made Himself known beyond a shadow of a doubt. I heard a voice say “you can’t keep doing this.” Right then I hit my knees, repented of my sin and rededicated myself and my soul to Jesus Christ. Soon after that I became active in a great church, surrounded myself with strong Christians and I was even re-baptized.

Now that I’m back in Mississippi, here I am: A man who’s still a sinner but who realized the way he was living was wrong, the things I had placed more emphasis on rather than Jesus were wrong and that I was trying to do it all myself. I can’t. No one can. Only Jesus can save us and I thank God that I came to realize that. I married a Godly woman, I am involved in an amazing church and am seeking out God’s will for my life. I’m proud to say that I love Jesus and I want to serve Him in all ways as possible. My road has been a bumpy one but I thank God that I went down it because it helped me learn to rely on Him and that without Him I am nothing.

A Pastor That Leads

Today I heard one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard in any church that I’ve ever had the privilege of worshiping in.

My church – Central United Methodist Church of Meridian, MS – has decided to undertake a very bold and brave experiment in order to find ways to help the church grow. Before I go any further with that, let me just say that my church is very healthy and is growing by leaps and bounds. However, in the years to come, this might not be the case. The reality of any church is that members have a finite lifespan either through things like moving, death, poor health or other factors. In order to ensure that the church continues to grow and is able to sustain a healthy membership in the decades to come, the sooner we begin finding the ways to make that happen the better. The experiment I speak of involves reversing the order of our worship services.

Central has two services on Sunday mornings: A contemporary worship service at 8:30 and a traditional service at 10:55. Each week attendance numbers are published in Central’s newsletter and the early service is a much larger draw (normally over 200 – sometimes close to 300) than the late service (normally less than 200). The Administrative Council voted to try an experiment in which the times for the services will be reversed. The purpose of this is to find out if more people are coming to the contemporary service because of the time and also to find out if having a contemporary service later in the morning may attract even more young people to church who currently are unchurched.

It’s bold and different. I also fully support it.

Our Senior Pastor, Dr. Bob Rambo, spoke today in length about the experiment and how he understood that some people don’t support it because it’s different. Let’s face it: A lot of people don’t like change. A lot of people don’t like the boat being rocked and thus they’re opposed to anything that will shake up their lives especially when it comes to church. However, Bro. Bob reminded us all that we have a mission: To offer Christ to as many people as possible in as many ways as possible and as many times as possible. He acknowledged that change is never easy (and also emphasized that this just a month long experiment, not a permanent change being made at this time) but that it’s necessary in order for the church to continue to grow and be sustained in the future.

A church that doesn’t experiment and try new things is a church that will die. It might not be tomorrow but it will happen eventually.

Bro. Bob related a similar situation that arose while he was serving a congregation in northeastern Mississippi. A large sum of money was left to the church but with the stipulation that the money had to be used to help people, not to be used for the church budget. A committee (we United Methodists love our committees!) determined that a big need in the community was for more daycare services and their recommendation was to use the money to start a daycare service. A faction within the church was opposed and did all it could to derail the decision – including physically threatening Bro. Bob and members of the committee who made the recommendation. By the time it was all said and done, the final decision was made to start the daycare. Many years later Bro. Bob returned to the church to preach at their homecoming and he found a congregation that was vibrant and growing. Many of the new families who came to the church did so because of the daycare. Some of the people who were opposed to the idea sought Bro. Bob out to apologize to him and to let him know that they were wrong.

The congregation that Bro. Bob served had an opportunity to do something bold and many people didn’t like it. However, the experiment worked and the church is still growing today because of the vision for the daycare.

I applaud Bro. Bob for having the forethought and vision to propose this idea. He knows that he won’t be at Central forever (UMC clergy are moved every so often) but he wants the church to survive and thrive long after he’s gone. I also applaud the Administrative Council for being willing to take a risk and try something bold that may very well help to sustain the church long after all of us are gone.

Today Bro. Bob spoke to the congregation about our mission and how sometimes we have to do things that are uncomfortable in order to further the gospel of Christ. While the growing pains may be difficult, it’s well worth it in order to serve Christ and help others see Him. Bro. Bob showed us all what a pastor should be and that’s a leader with vision and the boldness to want us to try new things.

He also showed that a pastor should not only serve the current congregation but also consider those who will come through the doors after his time at the church is done. Not only is he helping us now, he’s seeking to help future members of Central by laying a foundation now.

This, friends, is what a pastor should be doing.

Jonathan