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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.
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.”