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Christmas is a wondrous and joyful time of great HOPE! Hope can turn a weary life into a wonderful life. This story did not happen at Christmas time, but it reminds us of what Christmas is all about and that God wants the Christmas spirit to live in us all year long.
I served with the Missions Area of the Ontario First United Methodist Church as they reached out to the marginal and homeless people of the Inland Empire. This was a quarterly event that included dinner, singing, worship, and arts and crafts with the children. During one of these events, we became aware that there was a need to give special attention and hope in the weary worn community we were serving.
We invited a homeless family to our home in Mt. Baldy for a few days to get them out of the rat race of seedy hotels, lice, and discouragement. The children, ages 6, 4 and 3, could not play outside because it was too dangerous.
In those three days in Mt. Baldy, the parents washed dirty clothes that were piled high in the trunk of their car, enjoyed a few walks by themselves, dreamed and made plans for their lives. The children squealed with happiness as they splashed in the creek, climbed up in the treehouse, hiked to the orchard with Charlie, our neighbor’s Border Collie and picked fruit, played ball in the front yard, and made cookies for the first time in their lives. They also took baths. The little three-year-old took four bubble baths in one day! Her sparkling clean soft curls bounced as much as she did.
They all helped with meals and ate as though they never would again. They were eager to hold hands and say grace before eating.
Tears flowed from their Daddy’s eyes when he came in from a walk and heard his children singing and laughing. He asked me if I knew some of the hymns his grandmother had taught him as a child. I did and he joined us in singing those hymns. It surprised his children to hear their daddy sing and that he knew about God and Jesus. I believe he surprised himself and felt better when he remembered he had a foundation of faith that would help him.
The children were tucked into beds with clean sheets each night but on their last night, they wanted more. They asked Pam and me to tell them a story, teach them how to pray bedtime prayers and sing a goodnight song like we did with our grandchildren. Their mama and daddy joined us.
All scrubbed and clean, tummies full with a hearty breakfast, plus a bag of goodies prepared for each of them, they left the mountain with hugs and kisses and a sheer pleasure, but most of all, with a sense of hopefulness instead of hopelessness. We discovered that it’s not only adults who need hope in their lives, children also hunger and thirst for hope. The next week we went to the motel to see them, but they were no longer there. We prayed they had begun life anew with hope.
God sent the Christ child to give our weary world a thrilling sense of hope. Giving HOPE to others is one of the greatest gifts we can give at Christmas.
Once upon a time, some young people decided they wanted to become a rock band. They got so excited thinking about fame, fortune, and popularity. They talked for days about what the name of their band should be, what songs they’ll sing, what they’ll wear, and the kind of image they wanted to project. At the end of their meetings, they were full of themselves and couldn’t wait to tell their friends. They were completely ready to become rock stars, except for one detail that stood in their way. They didn’t know how to play their instruments!
This story reminds me of the church. You can’t organize a church into being. Meetings do not a church make. A new name does not make a new church. Buildings, parking spaces, and technology are not the foundation of the church. No, it is people ~ committed people, spirited people, talented people, compassionate and giving people, who in community understand they are the body of Christ.
There are no shortcuts to being the Church. The Church is the instrument of God, an instrument that requires practice, an instrument that plays the joyful and calling music of justice, peace, hope and love, an instrument of faithful commitment to prayer, worship, witness, evangelism and action.
The Church does not strive for popularity, it strives for community, a oneness through love and understanding. The call to be the Church is not for ‘groupies’ (those who follow the band), but for ‘disciples’ (those who follow Christ). A rock band thrives by having groupies. The Church thrives by having disciples. A rock band needs ‘roadies’ to help set up the band on the stage. The Church needs ‘radicals’ with the courage to take the Good News of Jesus into all the world!
In light of the recent rain, storms and floods, Kimball and I were taken back to a frightening experience we had 25 years ago. It was during Lent in 1993 and one of those unusual times when torrential rains flowed down the mountainside, but our spirits would not be dampened. We were still excited about the day before when we had begun our four-day Lenten series with the First United Methodist Church of Garden Grove, CA. We were eager to get back on our second day of activities, fellowship, and worship.
As we came to the creek’s crossing below our Mt Baldy home our hearts won out over our heads. We knew the water was higher than we had ever seen but didn’t anticipate its fierceness. We only wanted to get to the other side and be on our way. Ever so cautiously and with hearts pounding, we started across, only to be swept up in a matter of seconds into the raging creek. After crashing into a large boulder that kept our car from going farther downstream, Kimball found his door was lodged next to the rock and he could not open it, but he managed to climb into the back seat and open its door. Holding on to the seat belt to keep him from being washed away, he made his way to a large rock and held on. It steadied and protected him from the strong current. He called for me to follow. “No, I’m afraid” I yelled! He assured me I would make it and I believed him. I, too, climbed into the back seat and held on to the seat belt as I began to slide out of our car. The fast-moving waters immediately took my shoes (my new red flats!) and I began to panic. Looking up, there he was, one arm holding fast to the rock and the other outstretched to pull me to him. As soon as I got to him, he continued making a way for us to safety through the freezing waters and through thick brush to the edge of the road.
Our small community of good friends and neighbors rallied in support of us. As soon as we made it to a clearing they began wrapping us in blankets. About eight of us stood beside the creek watching our car, which was partially submerged in 5 ft. of water, being pushed and pulled by the force of the water flowing at an estimated 60 miles an hour. How in the world did we get out?!
As the tow truck began pulling our car from the creek, we saw a cross floating around in the back seat. “Look, it’s a cross!” It was a roughly made cross from branches of a fallen tree that Kimball had made for his time with the youth to illustrate the power of the cross. Never could he have imagined how significant that cross would become! Everyone pointed with amazement and the tow truck driver shook his head, took his hat off, placed it on his heart and said, “Bless be to God, it’s a downright miracle these folks got out alive! That cross is what saved them!” We told him we were “those folks” and thanked him for his concern and caring.
We held each other tight and smiled, feeling very humbled and oh, so blessed ~ The Creek, the Cross, and the Miracle! What an Easter Story! Never does the season of Easter come that we don’t stop our busy world and pause each day for our meditation time as we look at the cross and feel the love and sacrifice it represents.
Seeing the snowcapped mountains last week over Claremont reminded us of one Easter we had while living in Mt. Baldy. It was unlike any we had ever experienced. There were no Easter flowers but Mother Nature surrounded us with beauty. There were no comfortable pews but we had big rocks that could seat more than one and we shared quilts and blankets for comfort. We had no pipe organ, only guitars, but their music, along with our voices, echoed throughout the mountainside. You could almost feel the movement of the trees and brush, the squirrels and deer joining in the songs of Easter with us.
All of Mother Nature seemed to come to a hush as Kimball began to preach the Easter message. The clouds floated around us like angels dancing and rejoicing. The sun began to peek over the snow-covered mountains. It was cold out in the elements but we were warmed by the Holy Spirit.
The old rugged cross stood before us but somehow the sting of it was taken away. As we gathered close to each other, tears came to many. I noticed a child wiping his mother’s tears in sweet love. “Because He Lives” never sounded so powerful.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
May your Easter be Happy and Blessed, Kimball and Pam
Although I have a good education and enough money to get by, I am a beggar. To be Christ-like you must be a beggar. You can’t be demanding and controlling. It is a position of servanthood. Thank you for responding to my begging. Without your prayers, financial support, and belief in our mission to take the Good News of Jesus Christ into the world, my ministry of evangelism in the prophetic spirit would have faltered long ago.
The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, bragged about the churches in Macedonia. Although they were going through hard times and were very poor, they begged for the privilege of sharing in the ministry and relief of other Christians (II Corinthians 8:1-5). Like those faithful nascent churches, I beg pastors and their congregations to allow me to serve them as a servant evangelist. I ask earnestly and humbly to bring the challenge and the Call of Jesus to them.
My mission is to help Churches focus on their mission. Admittedly, sometimes I fail, but other times I strike a spark in congregations. At those times the spark is visible and palpable and the people begin coming to the altar before I finish the Call. It is as though the feeling had been building and they couldn’t wait to come to God with a renewed commitment. I say ‘renewed’ because I preach mostly to churched people who have come to the altar before, but that fire may be only flickering or even smoldering. Church has become just another activity they do as part of a busy schedule. They hunger and thirst for that deeper meaning, and when it comes, they can’t sit still. They become the church on the move, being the best they can be, for Christ’s sake.
This is what I beg for. When it happens, I am renewed. My mission is done. My Calling is fulfilled.
It was the year of 1978 when Christmas Eve came on a Sunday ~ actually, a good day to stop the madness of last minute shopping and take time to be still and truly prepare for the birth of Jesus.
The sanctuary was decorated with fresh greenery, holly and ribbons of red ~ the Chrismon Christmas tree stood in beauty ‘neath the choir loft. The Advent Candles flickered above the manger scene where only the animals had gathered. The Children, Youth and Sanctuary choirs sang with joy as they led us into stillness, an almost silent moment. Kimball stood in the pulpit of our church, El Monte First UMC. His Christmas message was powerful yet tender, as he touched the core of our hearts. He challenged us to welcome the Christ child with gifts wrapped in patience and servanthood as we reached out to welcome strangers in our midst. He told us to ribbon the gifts with the peace, joy, hope, and love in our hearts.
Earlier that evening, Kimball was gathering his things together for the Christmas Eve Service when the phone rang. I was putting out leftovers from lunch for our supper when I heard Kimball say, “Yes, I am Rev. Coburn, how may I help you?” The man calling sounded weak and weary and may have been crying. “Can you help my wife and me get to Phoenix to see our son and his family for Christmas?” Kimball asked him where they were. “We are at the El Monte Bus Station,” the man said. Kimball told him he would be there in a few minutes.
Having just hung up the phone, Kimball said, “My goodness, I forgot to get the man’s name! How will I know who to look for?” But as he pulled up to the curb he noticed an older gentleman with his arms wrapped around an older woman. Seeing their weary faces, he asked them if they were the ones who called about needing help to get to Arizona. “Si, Senor, we are!” they said excitedly. With a warm smile, Kimball invited them out of the cold and into the car. The gentleman told Kimball his name was Joe and his wife was Mary. Their son was very sick, and they knew they must see him and his family. They wanted so badly to go but their car was too old for that kind of trip. Their plan was to ride the bus from East LA to the El Monte Bus Station and catch a Greyhound Bus to Phoenix. However, when they got there, they realized they didn’t have enough money for the bus tickets. But they knew they must find a way. After praying together for an answer, Joe looked through the phonebook hanging in a phone booth for the only place he thought might help them – the churches. El Monte First UMC was the only church that had a home phone number for the pastor and that’s why he called him.
Since the bus they had planned on taking had already left, Kimball invited them to our home for dinner and to come to our 11:00 PM Christmas Eve Service. He explained that he had to get back to the church to finish plans for the service but assured them that the children and I were looking forward to having them in our home. And that we were. The boys put more wood in the fireplace and a favorite Christmas album on the record player. The girls set the table for supper and cut a bouquet of flowers to make it special. They arrived to find a warm welcome, complete with hugs, from our entire family and our dog who was named Christmas Angel. After washing up, the kids invited them to the table for supper. It was most humbling to listen to them tell us about their only son and his family. Joe and Mary had two little granddaughters, ages 3 and 4, who they had never seen. More than anything they wanted to be with their family this Christmas. They asked about our family, and when the children spoke, they listened to their chatter with smiles. Mary offered to help me wash dishes after supper and Joe helped the boys bring in more logs for the fireplace.
Kathy and Cari went to their room in hopes of finding something for Joe and Mary to give to their granddaughters for Christmas. On the top shelf of their closet, they found a couple of Holly Hobby rag dolls they had outgrown. They wrapped them in tissue and put them in a Christmas bag with ribbons and cards for Mary to sign. Kimball Jr and Collie found a stocking hat and gloves for Joe and I found a scarf and gloves for Mary, plus a box of goodies and an Upper Room book of Christmas meditations for their trip to Phoenix. The children filled extra Christmas stockings with candy and fruit and hid their gifts in a box in the back of our station wagon. It had been an unexpected evening of sheer goodwill as we drove off to church for more memory making.
Joe and Mary seemed a little embarrassed that they might not look good enough to sit in church with us, but our children quickly grabbed their hands and introduced them to folks. They were surprised to see little children in their PJ’s and mamas, daddies and grandparents in their work clothes. As the organ began to play “O Holy Night” they scooted right in with us feeling very much at home. In his message simply titled “Hope”, Kimball shared that Christmas had come to us early with a phone call from strangers in need. I couldn’t help but notice tears in the eyes of those around us, especially Joe and Mary.
A Christmas Eve tradition at our church was to end the service with the lighting of candles and singing “Silent Night”. As we sang, we moved out of the sanctuary and into the courtyard to represent going into the world with the light of Christ. We encircled our little garden and sang at the top of our lungs, “Joy to the World” to let our community to know that Christmas was here!
While folks wished each other Merry Christmas, our children and I slipped into one of the Sunday school rooms and took the little Christmas tree that was decorated and put it in the station wagon. Kimball took Joe and Mary into his office and told them he had vouchers for them from the El Monte Ministerial Association for a night’s stay at a motel and breakfast in the morning. Some of the folks from church chipped in to buy two round-trip tickets to Phoenix and back to Los Angeles. Kimball arranged to pick them up and see them off in time to be in Phoenix by 2:00 in the afternoon for Christmas with their family.
“It is Christmas!” all eight of us exclaimed, as we crammed into the station wagon and took them to the motel. While Kimball was helping Joe and Mary check-in, the children and I quickly ran the big box from the car to the room the motel had left unlocked for us. Out came the decorated tree! Gifts were scattered beneath it and the stockings were hung from the dresser knobs with care! And as Joe and Mary opened the door, the Christmas tree lights clicked on! Smiles, tears, hugs, kisses, thanks, and Merry Christmases were shared by all.
A tired Coburn family drove in the parsonage driveway around 2 AM. Our children got into their PJs, Kimball stoked the fire, and I brought out mugs of hot chocolate and Santa’s plate of homemade Christmas cookies. We gathered around our tree and were warmed by the glow of the fireplace as we talked about this Christmas Eve. Kathy questioned her dad, “This morning you told us we are to welcome strangers in our midst. Daddy, do you think God sent Joe and Mary to us?” Children have a wonderful way of seeing things that cause us to ponder their questions. Although we never heard from Joe and Mary again, we hoped they felt welcomed and loved this Christmas Eve and that it was truly a Holy Night for them, as it was for us.
Over the years, people have asked if I am a music minister and if I do concerts. I’m humbled by these questions, but always let them know that I’m not a music minister and I don’t perform musical shows. I am a preacher, a servant evangelist who uses music to enhance my messages and to lift the spirits of the people. Sometimes I’ll write my songs from the sermons, while other times the sermons come from the songs. But every song I write has a complete message that I feel stands on its own. In almost 50 years of ministry, I’ve discovered that the combination of sermon and song greatly strengthens a presentation by making it more memorable and focused. Yes, I suppose there’s a part of me that would like to be a musical performer. But what really gets my heart going is using all the gifts God has given me to share his prophetic message.
I’m also blessed to have children, grandchildren, and good friends gifted in creating music with meaning and purpose. They continue to surround me with their talents and are on all my recordings. We’re extremely proud of the music we’ve produced over the years and are excited to share it with you.
Click the Music of the Ministry tab to listen and download the music. For the highest quality sound, go to Bandcamp and follow the steps and choose from a variety of digital formats. Or simply let us send you any – or all – CDs. The price? It’s my pleasure to share our music free of charge with the hope of encouraging you in your faith.
The greatest word in the Greek language is Agape. And boy, do we need it now!
I figure it’s the only way out of the mess we are in nationally and internationally. God gave us the gift of love for the situations we are dealing with today. There is not a political or military way out of these turbulent times. Only love can heal the brokenness and bring peace.
Maybe we should start using the Greek word, “agape” when we talk about love. Using the English word “love” has been misused and overused so much we forget the depth of the word. It’s become a word that has lost its true meaning by the way we use it; I love my new car … I love playing golf … I love my favorite food or TV show, etc. Agape will remind us of the love of God and Christ-like love.
I remember the first day in Greek class during my seminary days. Although I had just graduated from college and was feeling full of myself, I felt a little apprehensive about the Greek class. If you’ve heard the expression, “sounds like Greek to me”, then you understand what I was feeling. I think the professor sensed the anxiety among her students, so she started with the Greek word for love, agape. Not only did she tell us the translation of the word, she also took time to dig deep into its meaning and engage us in a discussion.
Agape is Christ-like love, which means a self-giving love seen supremely in God’s love for the world (John 3:16) and as a mark of the Christian life (I Corinthians 13). It is a way of thinking and living life that can change everything. It can bring the end to war and rumors of war. It can tear down walls that divide and break chains that bind. It can stop us from hurting each other. I heard the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel, speaking at the Claremont Colleges and he told this story:
Two men were talking and drinking together. One of them asked the other, “Do you love me?” and his friend answered, “Yes, I do.” After a while, the man said again, “Do you love me? And his friend answered, “Yes, I love you.” As the evening grew late the man asked one more time, “Do you love me? “ The friend said, “Yes, I do love you.” To which the man responded, “Then why don’t you know what hurts me?”
So, as we live our daily lives, let’s remember that love is agape and agape is love. It allows God’s Will to be done.
Historically, Methodists were known to be warm people with warm hearts, warm fellowship, warm worship, warm music, and warm outreach. John Wesley’s life was changed when his heart felt strangely warmed. Having and conveying that feeling was one of the major factors in growing the church.
The difference between a warm church and a cooler routine type is quite noticeable. Warm churches enjoy fellowship on a deeper level. They understand the bond that brings them together and their mission they share. Even though each member is unique, in Christ their hearts are one. They’re relaxed and glad to see one another and enjoy sharing what’s going on in their lives.
Warm churches are joyful. There’s joy in their liturgy, joy in their singing, joy in their response to preaching and joy in their hearts when they go into the world to be the church in everyday life. Warm churches give generously and serve faithfully. They don’t get lost in survival and self. They preach a welcoming and personal Jesus. They preach his calling to build the Kingdom of God and take the social action necessary. Warm churches do something better than any clubs or organizations. They create a level playing field for all people — an environment where no one is better, smarter, richer, or more important than anyone else. God created us unique and precious in his sight. We worship and work together, shoulder to shoulder as a team with a focus.
I’ve been told if I were a consultant instead of a servant evangelist, I could make a lot more money. Consultants are sellers of their expertise while servant evangelists are messengers of Christ’s Good News. Being a servant-messenger sounds so much warmer – don’t you agree?! But if I were a consultant, the first thing I would tell you is: For God’s Sake, Warm It Up! Warm churches are communities of people who know they are the Church — the Body of Christ. And to be the Body of Christ means we’re warm in our being, warm in our methods, and warm in our touch.
When I was a pastor, there was a man in our church who was a dyed in the wool social activist. I mean, when the city council met and this man was there, they knew that they had better straighten up and fly right or they were going to have this man on his feet and at the podium challenging them. His name was Art Speer. He wasn’t a big imposing guy. In fact, he was kind of frail. But his heart was huge and his compassion for the poor and marginal people of our city was genuinely Christ-like.
He not only helped the city council fly right, Art helped me, his pastor, to stay up to speed on social justice issues happening in our city. I don’t mean to brag, but we almost harmonized as well as Simon and Garfunkel. Oh, and there’s one more thing I should tell you, Art was blind. He was born with sight but had been blind for 25 years.
One day when we were together sitting in Art’s living room, I asked him, “Art, do you ever pray for your sight to return?” His answer was very humbling, “No, Kimball, I don’t pray for sight, I pray for VISION.”
Remembering Art, I will be praying and preaching for Vision. This year as I travel among your churches, God’s message to you through me will be “The Vision.” I will continue to preach “Don’t Let The Fire Go Out!” for the churches who need that spark of renewal. After the fire is rekindled and flaming we must move on to transforming the world ~ understanding God’s Vision. The Vision is not as much something we see as it is something we are.
I look forward to worshipping with you and preaching for you God’s message.