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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.
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.
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.
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)
The feeling of longing for the simple is one we all feel at times. Life does get complicated and stressful. Is this just the modern way or is there another choice? I believe there is another way and that is to live by faith. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is believing without seeing. Faith is to “let go and let God.” Faith is the “blessed assurance Jesus is mine.” Faith simplifies life because it brings God’s Will into your life and you know who you are and your purpose for being.
Following Jesus calls for a simple lifestyle. Jesus warns us about money and material things and how they can turn our heads and trap us. He also warns us about power, whether it be personal, political or military. A simple lifestyle is a Christian lifestyle. It is basically childlike and profoundly Christ like.
I would love to come to your church and encourage your people to feel the wind on their face and to experience God’s grace. Listen to my song and you’ll better understand and maybe even feel what I’m talking about.
Kimball Coburn, S.E.