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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.
As I start my 38th year of doing a ministry of evangelism in the prophetic spirit, it is time again for a ‘gut check.’ Have I resisted the world’s call to be popular instead of prophetic, a fundraiser instead of a faith raiser, a singer instead of a servant? ~ I have gone back through my sermons and newsletter articles to check my thinking and see if I have kept moving in the direction of God’s Call. Of course, it is your response to my ministry that makes it happen in your local church. So, let’s look together and remember God’s Call.
“I am convinced there is a place for the evangelist today, but the TV model must be replaced with the biblical model.” (1980)
“Maybe it’s good that people aren’t rushing to our churches today. Could it be this is God’s wake-up call to us saying, “It’s time to start doing evangelism instead of just talking about it.” (1986)
“I challenge all evangelists, pastors, music ministers and musically gifted lay people to create music that will inspire and move the Church into the future.” (1990)
“1950s, goodbye! I loved my old church. I thank her for being there for me at that impressionable age. But I want a church that realizes it’s a new day that calls for a new way!” (1995)
“Being a city boy, I’ve never expressed myself with the words, ‘It pleasures me greatly.’ However, they are the perfect words to express how I feel about being a servant evangelist. Although I graduated from seminary as a Doctor and was ordained a Reverend, nothing is more awe-inspiring to me than being a Servant.” (1996)
“Encouragement for Young Ministers: You can be humble and at the same time, assert your leadership. You can respect the elderly and at the same time, energize the youth. You can be pastoral and at the same time, preach prophetically. You can honor the traditions and at the same time, introduce new ways of worship. You can be a daily servant and at the same time, see visions.” (2000)
“I love the church because she is not self-serving. She exists in humility and meekness to serve the world. She exists to do evangelism, taking the Good News to the lost, confused and hopeless. I love the church because of her constant striving to change the world. I love her prophetic spirit and belief in peacemaking. I love her courage to confront and challenge injustice wherever it resides.” (2005)
“People today are much like those to whom Isaiah was prophesying who said, “speak to us smooth things.” The Church cannot be a ‘garden’ of smooth things. It cannot become an ‘ether environment’ that puts people to sleep to the hurts and pains around them.” (2007)
“Jesus was angry with his disciples when they fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane. I am angry with my church because we are sleeping while God is Calling.” (2008)
“METHODISM is known for being pioneering, spiritually fervent, socially concerned, theologically progressive and musically alive. Now put this with COMPASSION to the power of two, and the true meaning of EVANGELISM will be understood ~ E=mc2 (2009)
“When I see the church gaining the crowd but losing her life, it is time to give up popularity for the prophetic spirit.” (2010)
“You cannot be with poor children and not feel the great contradiction ~ the contradiction between God’s Will for the world and our actions in the world.” (2009)
“Challenge to Ministers: Most of us ministers have got what it takes, but we are not giving what we’ve got. It comes off like we don’t have the gifts and graces for ministry. We do have the gifts and graces. The challenge is to have the guts — the guts to stand tall and give our all.” (2011)
“Restlessness can be a good thing, a creative thing, and a positive change. Ambitious restlessness and Holy Spirit restlessness are completely different. One drives you inward to self, while the other drives you outward to others.” (2015)
When I am writing a sermon, I think if I could convince people that God’s love never fails I would give them the merriest Christmas of all. Just think of the words from the Bible, “God’s steadfast love endures forever” or in other words, God’s love surrounds us and never fails.
Christmas is a time of giving and this is the greatest gift of all. We should let God’s gift of love be our example of giving to others. When we love others as God loves us, the circle is complete.
We become one with Christ Jesus and experience peace that passes all understanding. When we stumble, love is there to steady us. When we fall, love is there to pick us up. When we sin, love is there to forgive us. When we are broken, love is there to mend us. When we are discouraged, love is there to give us hope.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” Every time I read or hear these words, I get a lump in my throat. God’s love never fails and endures forever. I know this, I believe this, and I want you to feel the same.
We wish you Love, and the Merriest Christmas of all!
Kimball and Pam
The day is coming when we will have “autonomous cars.” This is what cars are being named that don’t need drivers. The automotive industry predicts by the year 2020, driverless cars will be on the roads. It sounds a little scary to me, although, in most cases, I am for progress. Progress for the Church is the opposite of this. Yes, God could control the Church, but chooses not to. God has chosen us to be the Body of Christ, the Church. God has called us to be builders of the Kingdom of God. We are not controlled by God. We are loved, blessed and guided by God. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and freed to be all we can be.
Progress for the Church is the opposite of this. Yes, God could control the Church, but chooses not to. God has chosen us to be the Body of Christ, the Church. God has called us to be builders of the Kingdom of God. We are not controlled by God. We are loved, blessed and guided by God. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and freed to be all we can be. The Church is not a car, but needs drivers. She needs people to keep their hands on the wheel and carry the Cross. The progress of the Church depends on getting more and more people involved. It is not autonomous, it is community oriented.
Oh, America, what am I going to do with you? You claim to be a Christian nation but when the time comes to elect your president you act as if you don’t know me.
Woe to you who think you can push me aside in an election year, thinking God’s standards are fine for religion but this is politics!
I hate it when your candidates use my name to get elected but don’t follow my teachings to conduct their campaigns. I despise the half-truths and lies they put in their television commercials. I abhor their personal attacks on each other.
Woe to you citizens, who allow this kind of politics to go on. I can’t stand it when you respond to negativism; when your votes are attracted by a strong military and influenced by money and big corporations, with little thought of positive, compassionate programs for humanity. Don’t you realize that if compassion is not in the issues, then love cannot be in the hearts of the candidates?
I call you Americans to insist on presidential campaigns that are run on the highest ethical road… the road of honesty, fairness, compassion and justice… the road that does not degrade you and your democracy. If you run your politics on this road, I will travel with you and my strength will come to your nation. This is the hope that is yours, and you can say in all truthfulness, “WE ARE A NATION UNDER GOD.”
(I wrote this in the “prophetic spirit” during the summer of the 1988 presidential election between Michael Dukakis and George H. Bush. I believe these words apply even more today. Our political system is broken and failing miserably. I know God is a patient God, but how long will we not listen – how long will we turn away from our source of righteousness and hope?)
Please take time as you read this scripture to let it sink in. Read it several times knowing it was written for you today. Let it lift you to a rejoicing that will take you beyond depression and discouragement.
“… On account of his (God’s) vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish – an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials.” (I Peter 1:3-6, CEB)
Hope is what Easter is about. It didn’t change the Roman Empire’s domination system in Jesus’ time. But hope started happening – a new way of understanding and receiving God’s love as a gift of grace and a new way of living by forgiveness and love. People began to feel the hope of God’s Kingdom come and Will be done. They had something to live for and a way to do it.
Let Easter be a time of hope for you. I’m not saying all you have to do is ‘pack up your troubles in an old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.’ I’m saying to accept the living hope that God is offering you. It’s your inheritance, your eternal life which will give you the strength and courage to live boldly and joyfully in this life. Let hope guide your daily living and you will see that silver lining behind the clouds. Let hope guide your daily praying and God will answer with the blessed assurance – “I am with you always.”
Having grown up in large churches in Memphis, Tennessee, Kimball and I were about to embark on a most wonderful journey. It was June of 1967. He was appointed to serve as a student lay pastor of two rural churches in Kentucky. My goodness, we had never even been in a country church. Yet, it was exciting to think he could really serve as a pastor while going to college, and that our young family of six would be a parsonage family. We loaded our station wagon with four children (7, 5, 19 months, and 3 weeks), hitched on a U-Haul trailer and headed for our first appointment and parsonage in Water Valley, KY.
With Kimball going to school full-time, serving our churches full-time, visiting, preparing sermons and being a daddy, I sometimes found myself overwhelmed with a sense of insecurity that I could not do all that I expected of myself. I’d throw up a prayer ever now and then, but I was busy… I thought I didn’t have time to be still and pray, and just as important, listen.
One day after a hard morning with two crying, sick babies, I began to cry. My 7-year-old son came to my rescue. “Why are you crying, Mama, what’s the matter?” I hugged him and said, “Son, I’m tired, and I just need a place to call my own when my spirits are down.” He wiped my tears with his shirt tail, gave me a hug and disappeared. I thought he had gone to play with his little brother, but he had another idea. After awhile he came back to me, “Mama, I found you a place you can call your own. Come see!” He took me by the hand to the large closet in my bedroom. He had taken most everything from the floor and piled them on our bed. He couldn’t reach the hanging clothes so he just grabbed the bottom of them and scooted them from the center of the closet. He had put a little table and a chair from his table and chairs set, in the center of the closet. He put a Bible, paper, pencil, and flashlight on the table for my use. When his Daddy got home from school he asked him to help him make a sign for my prayer closet. When I was in there, I was to hang it on the doorknob…”DON’T BOTHER MAMA…SHE IS IN THE PRAYER CLOSET!”
I loved that little prayer closet and I used it. I used it a lot! I smile when I remember the day when our 3-year-old, Kathy, came down the hall from her nap, yelling, “Where’s my mama?” “Shhh, she is in the prayer closet,” her brothers told her as they took her back to their room to play. I finished my prayers refreshed and renewed to be a mama, a minister’s wife, and ME once again. I learned from my thoughtful 7-year-old the importance of finding a place to call my own when feeling overwhelmed with the noise of the world around me. I did not know how to be still. I did not realize how much I was missing in my life. My ‘still be still’ times saved my sanity, but also refreshed me for living a life with meaning and purpose. I didn’t have a name for those quiet times like I do today, but I do know I am who I am because of my times in prayer. I believe in its power, especially when praying with heart and soul for others, as well as myself.
In these days of Lent, I hope you will find a place to call your own, and have some ‘still be still’ times to find hope for the living of these days.
As we journey together,
I love my wife in a romantic way. I love my children in a fatherly way. I love you in a humbled servant way. God called me to be a servant evangelist and you have sustained me in this Calling. You have prayed for me. You have supported me financially. You have believed in me and shared that belief with others by inviting me to your churches.
Yes, God started it all, reaching out to me and taking me by the hand. But with the other hand, I began to feel your hands and knew that I was not alone. Now for thirty-six years you have walked and served with me giving me confidence, courage and a renewed commitment to keep on keeping on.
I am deeply honored to call you friends and fellow servants of the Lord. I wish for you and your family a Blessed and Merry Christmas. I love you all more than you can imagine.