Kinston named an All-America City

It’s hard to see things decline around you and not enter the cycle of doom with everyone else. Just as destructive can be our tendency to bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything is going okay. Well folks, the bishop asked me to come to Kinston and stand alongside the saints and sinners of Queen Street United Methodist Church as they transitioned to another century of ministry. Now Kinston is a city that is facing serious issues. Fifty years ago Queen Street, the main street, was known as “the Magic Mile” and for many in eastern North Carolina we were the center of the universe. Times have changed … tobacco is no longer king (hardly even a pawn) and the other cities around us have landed economic engines that mean that folks have no need for a “Magic Mile” somewhere else. As ministry unfolded I turned to the following passage from Jeremiah for continued hope and inspiration:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

We feel like exiles in the city because it no longer looks like it used to look. But the LORD says to us live here, eat here, find husband for daughters and wives for sons, and multiply and do not decrease. We can understand that impulse and hope that it might work, but for many of us our sons and daughters have married and moved elsewhere to live, eat, and multiply. The LORD is not leaving us hanging … the LORD adds “seek the welfare of the city” and pray on its behalf for “in its welfare you will find your welfare” … the LORD says your future is tied together with the broader welfare and prosperity of the whole community. Do not settle for less than everyone’s welfare and your welfare will never be in doubt. That is the lesson God has been teaching me these days.

On Sunday afternoon, the folks of Kinston will gather in Grainger Stadium to celebrate our being named one of ten All-America Cities this past year. The following are the words that I will offer as an invocation to that celebration:

O God, our help in ages past when names like Caswell, Gordon, Bright, McLewean, Shrine, Dobbs, Herritage came to the intersection of King and Queen in 1762 to form a city; Who knew then the plans that you laid out for them as they moved out to the north, south, and east with the Neuse at their backs to the west? You gave our fathers and mothers wisdom to know that a city for a king depended only on you for its greatness and its citizens for its support when they changed our name from Kingston to Kinston. You saw us through years of growth and periods of decline, times of war and times of peace, moments of laughter and seasons of mourning, gathered us in Granger Stadium and Grand Theater, churches and synagogues, and even drew us to the Magic Mile.

O God, our hope for years to come we come at a time of great celebration and come praying and seeking for the welfare and prosperity of the city where we live. Give Kinston not only the pure water of the artesian well, but the purity of drink derived from our human efforts; give Kinston not only the little by little efforts for our children we make, but the greater by greater dreams you have for each one of them; give Kinston not only the rejection of the gang life, but the acceptance of a citizen’s life seeking your broader good.

O God, be thou our guide while life shall last we come anticipating a day when the young shall see visions and the old shall dream dreams. We come seeking the wisdom of the one who created us in your self-image so that we might live as your sons and daughters, as sisters and brothers in your soon-coming kingdom. Teach us your wisdom and guard our paths so that we might come to follow in the Way, the Truth, and the Life that you hold before each of us.

O God, our eternal home; In moments like these we give thanks that you put lifetime-sized dreams before us knowing that those things worth accomplishing might or might not be completed in our time, but in your time all things are possible O LORD of HOPE. In moments like these we give thanks for the true, the beautiful, and the good to which you have called us, O LORD of FAITH. In moments like these we give thanks that we cannot accomplish virtuous tasks alone and we need each other and especially you, O LORD of LOVE. In moments like these we remember that we are not all that, we are not always leaning in the right direction, we are not always pointed to your preferred future for us, we are not always aligned as friends, we far too often see one another as foes and for that we come now seeking forgiveness and trusting in the faith, hope, and love of our mothers and fathers, O LORD of FORGIVENESS.

O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come;
be thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home.

Now hear our prayer lifted in the Name of the One Who Is, the One Who Was, and the One Who Is to Come! Amen.

For the very discerning you will hear in the above invocation the following words that have traveled the globe with me and sustain the core of my prayer life with the Living God of our mothers and fathers.

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime;
therefore we must be saved by HOPE.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
therefore we must be saved by FAITH.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;
therefore we are saved by LOVE.

No virtuous act is as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.
Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love which is FORGIVENESS.
–Reinhold Niebuhr

A Brother’s Wisdom 4 – Doing the Good that You Know to Do

No sooner had James challenged us last week with his wisdom about our tongues then we saw Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the Video Music awards with a demand that the real winner should be someone else after Serena Williams had verbally abused a line judge at the US Open the previous day. And members of congress are engaged at name-calling and hypocrisy at all kinds of levels. I asked you all to practice “keeping your tongue” this past week (even if it meant literally holding your tongue). So how did that go for you?

This week we move from the spark to the fire, from the rudder to the ship, from the bit to the horse; that is, we move from conversation about our words to a challenge to how we live! Now we must longer just talk the talk, we have to learn how to walk the walk … come on and let’s pay attention to a brother’s wisdom from James 4:

Friendship with the World
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:1-10).

James continues today from last week’s argument that we are to seek wisdom from above as we encounter the conflicts and divisions within our community and out in the world. Part of what James speaks to in verse 2 is our tendency to provoke violence because we want and covet what is not ours and when we are resisted we sometimes respond with violent words that can lead to violent actions. We remember that Jesus told us that if we are angry with a brother or sister we have already committed murder even if the act if not done – and Jesus tells us we will be held to account for that thought and more especially the words uttered in anger (see Matthew 5:21-26). And then James gets up close with his hearers – the root of these conflicts is that you desire what you do not own. This in and of itself is not the problem. James says the problem lies with asking wrongly for what we want and then using it only for our pleasure (see verse 3). So we are to repent and no longer seek to be a friend to the world … we are called to be friends of God.

Next we encounter a several thorny verses to understand. First, we need to know that in verse 6 James is quoting Proverbs 3:34 which states: “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he shows favor.” The second trickier question is what to make of verse 5. Is it (1) God yearns jealously for the spirit that he made to dwell in us or (2) that the spirit God caused to dwell in us is intensely jealous? One way to read the text suggests that God is jealous of his people and another way of reading the same text suggests that human beings have a tendency to be envious. Part of me wants to answer “duh” and say God can have it both ways. Why? Because I am pretty sure about God’s jealous love of us and fully confident of my desire (and yours, if the truth be told) to be envious!

Either way, verse 6 calls us earnestly seek the grace God has to offer. To do that we need to be humble. James is ever-ready to offer us some help about what that humility looks like. The following are James ten challenges to his fellow Christians (4:7-11a). As you hear this list again, I just ask in a confessional way, “how are you doing?”

1. Submit yourselves therefore to God.
2. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
3. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
4. Cleanse your hands, you sinners,
5. Purify your hearts, you double-minded.
6. Lament and mourn and weep.
7. Let your (foolish) laughter be turned into mourning.
8. Let your (empty) joy be turned into dejection.
9. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
10. Do not speak evil against your brother or sister.

Let’s continue to hear James challenging word to his congregation:

Warning against Judging Another
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor (James 4:11-12)?

James moves immediately from listing his challenges to stopping his hearers in their tracks. As I read over that list I tend to think about how others have acted towards me even though I asked you and me to answer in confession “how are you doing” with these challenges. You probably did the same thing and James “stop it!” You are not to judge another because there is one (and only one) lawgiver and judge who is able to save or destroy us! James knew his disperses congregation and he knows us. “Who are you to judge you neighbor?” he inquires. Our answer reveals us to busybodies trying to heap judgment on others while scrambling to avoid God at all costs. It is a game that we cannot win!

Boasting about Tomorrow
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” 14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin (James 4:12-17).

James closes the chapter with a pointed comment to the merchants of his day. Even within the church we can begin to think too confidently about how much we are in charge of our lives. First I am going to do this, then I am going to do that, and finally I will have the following in place. Somewhere along the way we join those merchants in forgetting to add “if the Lord wishes” to our pronouncements! When we fail to do that our arrogance will eventually catch up with us. James casually offers one last challenge “if you know what to do and do not do it, you commit sin.” That comment slips in like a thief in the night and drops us to our knees. We want sin to be about what we do wrong, not about not doing right things. James will not let us go! (And that’s why we jump at the chance to make James a “works” letter that we can ignore. This “gotcha” is more than we can handle.)

So let’s consider three possible homework assignments this week:
1. In verse 3 James tells us that “you ask and do not receive, because you ask [God] wrongly.” What is one desire of your heart that you might ask God for? How have you been pursuing this desire on your own? Invite God to lead you in pursuing this desire of the heart in manner worthy of God.
2. The closing “gotcha” verse today says “Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.” Pray in these moments for the knowledge and wisdom to do the right thing that God is placing on your heart.
3. Memorize verse 10 which states: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” Where do you need to learn to be humble in your life? Why is it difficult to let God take over this area of your life? Pray for the courage to “let go and let God” lead you into a new path of humility.

A Brother’s Wisdom 3 – The Tongue Can Spark a Forest Fire

Sometimes you just cannot make it up! Here we are reading through the book of James, something I planned months ago, and being challenged by the simple words to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger” because our “anger does not produce God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20). No sooner has James challenged us with this wisdom and this week we had Congressman Joe Wilson yelling “You Lie” while President Obama was speaking to a Joint Session of Congress and Serena Williams verbally abusing a line judge at the US Open. They should have been worshiping with us on the Magic Mile!

This week we turn to the third chapter of James and let’s see if he might have another word for us this week.

Taming the Tongue
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters,d this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters,e yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh (James 3:1-12).

James begins this lesson with a specific word to teachers, but moves quickly to the rest of his listeners. We must guard out tongues because they can do great damage in a few moments. Learning to bridle our tongues may be the finest thing we can ever learn – I am also convinced that this may be the hardest task any of us ever undertakes. James lays it on the line for us, the words we speak are a reflection of our heart. James is echoing here a brother’s wisdom. He may have remembered Jesus saying:

“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:33-37).


“Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:16-19).

Jesus was no doubt connected to God as he grew in wisdom and stature (see Luke 2:52) and he probably paid attention to the Rabbis as they offered instruction like the following from the Wisdom Tradition (Proverbs):

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence (Proverbs 10:11).

With their mouths the godless would destroy their neighbors, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered (Proverbs 11:9).

Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18).

A fool’s lips bring strife, and a fool’s mouth invites a flogging. The mouths of fools are their ruin, and their lips a snare to themselves (Proverbs 18:6-7).

Then James twist the rhetorical knife in our hearts as he reminds us that we were all created in the image of God.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27).

Because of this, to curse another human being is to curse one created in God’s image (James 3:9).

Let’s return to the rest of the third chapter of James:

Two Kinds of Wisdom
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace forf those who make peace (James 3:13-18).

James closes his words with a challenge to resist the accolades of those who might applaud our “earthly wisdom” and to choose to wait for the “wisdom from above.” Paul reminded his listeners in Corinth that the gospel we preach, Christ crucified and risen, is a stumbling block to Jews who demand signs and foolishness to the Greeks who demand wisdom. Hear again Paul’s words:

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no onei might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Proclaiming Christ Crucified
2 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

The True Wisdom of God
6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:7).

James invites us consider the wisdom we receive from above, a heavenly wisdom that begins and ends with God:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).

Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path (Proverbs 2:9);

Therefore walk in the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the just (Proverbs 2:20).

So I invite you in the coming week to pursue the wisdom from above. Consider this week how you might “hold your tongue” (literally if you have to) in conversations with others. I know in my journey that the practice I developed in my eighteen month sojourn in Kenya of writing all my letters in a journal before transcribing them into an aerogram produced more thoughtful words, especially when I had a difficult word to say to a friend. My writing teacher in seminary said that I needed to write twenty words in a draft for every one word in the final copy – maybe we need to think through twenty words we might say before we open our mouths to say the first word.

Secondly, I invite you ponder these words from James: “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Where in your life is God asking you to consider how to be pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruit, living and demonstrating no partiality or hypocrisy? Ask God for assistance in this task as you move through this week. May a harvest of righteousness be sown in peace in your life this week.

A Brother’s Wisdom 2 – Stop Acting Like a Christian and Be One!

We continue with our study of the book of James at Queen Street Church as we move into some of James’ most memorable lines of teaching. While I was praying and preparing this past week for this second lesson I checked out my colleagues at who launched a sermon series “Stop Just Acting Like a Christian and Be One.” What a challenge!

I also remembered the joke from my childhood. A father asked his daughter, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The young girl responded simply, “A vitamin.” “A vitamin,” the father responded, “whatever gave you that idea?” “The cereal box” came the response. “Its says right there on the side of the box: vitamin … B1!”

So before we even begin today, let me give away my conclusion. Stop acting like a Christian and be one!

Let’s read what James has to say in chapter 2:

Warning against Partiality

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

This extended lesson about hospitality and the sin of favoritism is telling in our time (and every time). First, let’s make some general observations about the text that reveal the Jewish milieu that James speaks out of and into:

1. James question about favoritism in the first verse echoes Elihu’s argument with Job over God’s sense of justice. There he says God “shows no partiality to nobles, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands” (Job 34:19).
2. The royal law of scripture to love one’s neighbor is found in Leviticus 19:18, which God simply states: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
3. Again, James’ concern with partiality remembers the admonition to Israel’s tribal leaders that they “must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike” (Deuteronomy 1:17).
4. The clear word of judgment against murderers and adulterers in verse 11 originates in the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:13-14 and Deuteronomy 5:17-18).

Now the obvious lesson within the Christian community is that Paul teaches us that in Christ their is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female (see Galatians 3:28). We can add neither rich nor poor, neither black nor white, and dare I say it this week Republican nor Democrat for we are made one in Christ. We cannot walk in these doors and start making distinctions about who is honored or not honored, who is great and who is small, who is welcomed and who is rejected. It may be in the world’s DNA and its brokenness that causes us to make those distinctions, but in Christ it is not acceptable! Let me say it plain, whatever ways that we want to utilize to separate people make no sense in God’s eyes. Why? Because mercy triumphs over judgment (verse 13). Mercy does not simply mitigate judgment – mercy trumps judgment! (Paul promises this as well: “For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Let’s return to James’ words to the dispersed Jews:

Faith without Works Is Dead

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

Now another debate ensues. Do we agree with Paul or James about the importance of faith and works? Let’s compare Romans 3:28 and James 2:24:

“For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” (Romans 3:28).
“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).

As we begin this discussion we need to remember a few things. First, Paul wrote his letters after James did, but if we “read the bible straight through” James’ arguments come after Paul’s and seem to be a corrective. Not so, James is speaking to a different audience at an earlier time than the time period of Paul’s audience. Martin Luther, the German reformer of five centuries ago, would say that people may be saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. That is, true faith is not an opinion (even demons believe in God), it must have an outward expression.

Second, James and Paul use the word justified in differing ways. To James the word justified points to that moment in eternity when we stand before our creator and judge to account for our lives. For Paul to be justified points to that moment when our sin is made right before God through Christ’s atoning act. Centuries later, John Calvin would state “as Paul contends that men are justified without the aid of works, so James will not allow any to be regarded as justified who are destitute of good works” (see his Institutes, 3.17.12). John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement summarized the position this way:

1. They do not speak of the same faith: St. Paul speaking of living faith; St. James here, of dead faith.
2. They do not speak of the same works: St. Paul speaking of works antecedent to faith; St. James, of works subsequent to it (John Wesley, Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, James 2:24).

Perhaps we can say with a contemporary word “its not whether you can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk.”

In just a few moments we are going to come to table to feast together. At this meal we are reminded of the atoning work that Jesus did for us. We break the bread and share the cup in remembrance of what God did through the death and resurrection of Jesus and we break the bread and share the cup in anticipation of that great day when we shall all be gathered at the gospel feast. And then we depart …, but this week. We cannot simply leave this place with James’ word echoing through our brains, so I have some homework for you to do this week.

This week:

1. God has placed someone in your life who is “poor” and someone who is “rich.” They may be a different color of skin, live in a different part of town, vote for a different party, be richer or poorer than you, etc. Whatever that distinction you treat them differently, maybe even with partiality or neglect. What difference would it make in your life if you saw them as God sees them? Now here the key, I am not asking you to ponder WWJD – what would Jesus do? No this week its WWJHMD – what would Jesus have me do? And when you have pondered, live into the Nike slogan and JUST DO IT! No excuse about time, money, resources … JUST DO IT!

2. This next week we are going to put ourselves into service. During the time that has been our early worship service we will gather here in the fellowship hall, break into teams to go out and pick up our friends from Carver Court, return to share in a light meal together, move into Sunday School, then worship together, and take our young friends home. Now I know how we are … we move away from Sunday and slowly forget what we have promised to God, so today each exit from our sanctuary will have someone with a clipboard available to take your name and number as you leave so that we can remind you of what you have promised.

3. Finally, as we write God’s word on our hearts, memorize with me: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Pastor’s Column in the July Newsletter

Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Greetings in the Name of the One Who Gives Freedom – Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior!

I remember the moments when the walls of our parsonage in Swansboro rattled as the big guns aboard Camp LeJeune sounded their call. I remember the officers and enlisted personnel who were members of Swansboro United Methodist Church reminding me that was “the sound of freedom” – and to an extent they were right. The sacrifice of our military personnel across over two centuries of our country’s history have provided us with the ability to gather to worship in complete freedom. As we come to moments of national celebration like the Fourth of July and Memorial Day, we do well to pause and give thanks to those who provided this freedom.

But Christians have gathered to worship for over two-thousand years – sometimes in the open light of day and other times underground in the darkness. Each time they gathered to worship they gathered in freedom. Why? Because the author of our freedom ultimately is Jesus Christ. Jesus said it this way, “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Across the world there have been and are movements that tried to tie together the freedom we find in Christ various political movements that promised freedom. Each movement provided a bit of the truth about our freedom, but ultimately each fell short of providing full freedom because they lacked loyalty to Jesus – the author of our salvation and the source of our freedom. I invite you this Fourth of July to remember the sacrifice of those who defend our ability to gather freely in worship. I also invite you to listen for the sounds of the nails being hammered into a cross through the hands and feet of the One who is our source of freedom. That sound may not rattle the walls of your house, but that ringing is the true “sound of freedom.”

This summer brings opportunities to gather for a baseball game on July 12th to engage in fellowship together with our church. We also are working to pull together our education space as we provide several opportunities for our community to be introduced to our Queen Street Academy after-school program. We also need your help on some Wednesdays as we continue working to clean and paint other parts of our education building. Join us for a day of work and fellowship.

I close with a reminder that many in our community are experiencing economic shortfalls because of the recent economic downturn. If you are able to make a financial gift to assist others in their season of shortfall you can make your checks payable to Queen Street Church and designate it for “family support.”

I thank each of you for how you use your freedom to serve our Lord in this community and within our church. See you on Sunday!

Grace and Peace, Allen

Pastor’s Column in the June Newsletter

Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ – the One who prayed that the church might be one.

This month our early worship celebration will gather in the Fellowship Hall and join other churches around the country in living into Jesus’ prayer that the church might be one. Last year over 2 million people joined in the One Prayer campaign and more are expected join this year. The theme for this year invited preachers from around the world to complete the sentence “GOD IS … .” Below is our schedule of messages … come join us on Sunday morning as we learn more about who God is.

Join us for ONE PRAYER 2009!

May 31 – “GOD IS … Love”
Craig Groeschel @ in Edmund OK

June 7 – “GOD IS … Here and Anything Can Happen”
Dino Rizzo @ Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, LA

June 14 – “GOD IS … Strength”
Francis Chan @ Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA

June 21 – “GOD IS … Incomparable”
Mark Batterson @ National Community Church in Washington, DC

June 28 – “GOD IS …”
Andy Stanley @ North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA

Our children’s space is now nearly renovated and in the coming months we will want to dress up our new adult spaces. In the coming weeks we will be putting together a summer work schedule to include workdays during the work week and on several Saturdays. I encourage you to find a place to commit several hours to helping us paint, clean, and organize our education spaces.

We will also need to keep our eyes focused on our city. As I mentioned this past week we congratulate Agnes Ho (Neuse Regional Library), Herbert and Cathy Lewis (Sweet’s Coffee Shop), Darlene Brown (Brown’s Sweet Treats), and Alison Merritt (Alison and Company)for their awards from the Kinston-Lenoir Chamber of Commerce. Let us continue to seek and pray for the welfare and prosperity of the city where we live.

Grace and Peace, ALLEN

ONE PRAYER Campaign for 2009

This year at Queen Street Church, the early service will feature preachers from several churches as we seek to be in union with churches around the world.  Last year invited other pastors and churches from around the world to share in Jesus’ ONE PRAYER for the church, to share in hearing God’s word, and enter into service to a broken world.  This year’s One Prayer messages emerge from each preacher’s desire to convey a single truth emerging from the phrase “God Is … .”  
  • “God Is … Love” from Craig Groeschel of in Edmund, OK.
  • “God Is …  Here and Anything Can Happen” from Dino Rizzo of Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, LA.
  • “God Is …  in Control” from Greg Surratt of Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant, SC.
  • “God Is …  Incomparable” from Mark Batterson of National Community Church in Washington, DC.
  • “God Is …  Strength” from Francis Chan of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA.  
  • “God Is …  Waiting on You” from Mark Beeson of Granger Community Church in South Bend, IN.
  • “God Is …  ” from Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA.
Last year’s theme was built on each pastor’s simple prayer for the church “Make Us … .”  You may want to check out last year’s messages from several of the the preachers we will be hearing.

I am praying that you will enjoy the coming month as we ponder the mystery of our God.

Books for Your Reading Consideration

In a season of economic uncertainty, you may want to consider these books for your personal and small group study:

  • During difficult economic times, it’s tough not to focus on getting by with less and waiting for the next bit of bad news. But, as Christians, how do we to respond to what’s happening on Wall Street? In Upside Living in a Downside Economy, Mike Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, offers insight into seeking God’s perspective in our daily money concerns. With clarity and a servant’s heart, Slaughter addresses vital topics such as money and marriage, financial and spiritual investments, personal motivation and God’s will, and determining priorities. (There is also a four-session DVD and Leader’s Guide for Upside Living in a Downside Economy that can assist participants in strengthening their spiritual connection while making economic corrections and, most importantly, responding according to God’s plan).
  • Enough is an invitation by Adam Hamilton, pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, to rediscover the Bible’s wisdom when it comes to prudent financial practices. In these pages are found the keys to experiencing contentment, overcoming fear, and discovering joy through simplicity and generosity. This book could change your life, by changing your relationship with money. (Also available is a five session video study with leader guide. Adam Hamilton presents such topics as Introduction: Faith in the Midst of Financial Crisis, When Dreams Become Nightmares, Wisdom and Finance, Cultivating Contentment, Defined By Generosity plus a Bonus video: To Be A Blessing).
  • Finally, Bishop Robert Schnase, offers us a devotion titled The Balancing Act. Our lives are filled to capacity with routines, habits, conversations, surprises, and disappointments. With all that’s going on in life, it’s easy to miss those quiet moments of grace which come more often than we realize. But they are there. A collection of thirty short and insightful devotional readings originally written for his blog, Bishop Robert Schnase invites readers to take a daily look at how to watch for and include God in their lives. The Balancing Act is written to inspire prayer, conversation, questions, and change. Feel free to use it as a personal daily devotional or in small groups.

Pastor’s Column in the May Newsletter

Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Greetings in the Name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

I am spending times these days wondering and praying and dreaming and pondering about our life together. I celebrated with God our hospitality as we welcomed the Association of Congregations for Holy Week worship here – I am ready to do that again tomorrow! I marveled at Jacob Mewborn’s creativity as he led his time in preparing worship celebrations for us throughout Lent and Easter. I prayed for Sammy Hudson as he has led us in worship for the past 2 years and now prepares for a full summer of ministry at The Refuge. I keep being surprised by Bridges Baker and our kids … we had 11 children in the nursery the Sunday after Easter! I prayed for the communion of saints as their number was increased by the addition of our brother David Callaway and sister Louise Burkett. I prayed for the continued ministry of our Congregational Care team after we dedicated them for ministry among us last month. I dreamed of our kids at Southeast Elementary School becoming the best of who God intends them to be and live according to God’s purposes for their lives. And I wondered … and I prayed … and I dreamt … and I pondered …

Father God, what are you up to on Queen Street? I am convinced that we are the people to lead this community into God’s preferred future. I am clear that God’s vision for us is to seek the welfare of the city where we live and trust that God will provide for our welfare as part of that broader prosperity. I am committed to seeing that the next steps are taken to lead God’s people forward, even if it is a land filled with giants as well as milk and honey. Yet I come back to that question, “Father God, what are you up to on Queen Street?”

This summer we will need to spend some time reorganizing our lives. When we move back into in our renovated spaces we will need to spend several days together moving equipment from one space to another. We have things scattered about the church that need to be reorganized and stored in new spaces. We have spaces that were formerly children’s spaces that now need to be repainted as adult and/or dual use spaces. For me all of this is a sign that God is also inviting us this summer to relook, rethink, reevaluate, reorganize, and retool ourselves for ministry together on Queen Street. So I come back to the question, “Father God, what are you up to on Queen Street?”

So I ask you to join with me in praying, “Father God, what are you up to on Queen Street?” I know that God is at work on Queen Street and in the midst of the servants I have come to hold so dear in our life together. Our leadership team is working on ways for us to spend this summer in wondering, praying, dreaming and pondering together as we seek to answer this question. My hope for you is that you will join us in this prayerful work and find your place for ministry among the saints and sinners who worship together on Queen Street.

Grace and Peace, Allen

Pastor’s Column in the April Newsletter

Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Greetings in the Name of the Holy One of Israel, Jesus Christ our Lord!

In the coming week we will pause to remember the most important week of our Lord’s life, the week of his passion or death. It is easy for us to forget the dizzying effect this week had on Jesus’ first disciples. One moment they were looking out over the holy city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, then they scrambled to find a donkey and led Jesus through the city in a victorious parade and later he shared a special meal with his closest followers that reinterpreted the meaning of the ancient ritual of Passover. Then Jesus was arrested by the Jewish authorities, prosecuted before the Roman governor, and crucified and left for dead outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Some of his closest and bravest followers recovered his body and prepared it for a proper burial. Then the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob intervened in a way never anticipated by his followers – God raised Jesus from the dead!

As you prepare to join Christians around the world in celebrating this Holy Week, I encourage you not to leap to the resurrection without first passing through the joy of the palms, the breaking of the bread, sharing in the cup, and the pain of the nails. To do so misses the experience of Jesus being fully alive in our midst, even in his “obedience unto death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). When we remember his life among and “the baptism of suffering, death and resurrection “we come to realize how much God loves us. This is the hope in which we stand unto this day: “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, that proves God’s love toward us” (see Romans 5:8).

During Holy Week we are hosting the Association of Congregations of Kinston and Lenoir County worship services during the lunch hour on Monday through Thursday. Each day we will worship from 12:00 to 12:30 PM and then have lunch together from 12:30 to 1:00 PM. I trust you will present to extend hospitality to our community as together we remember the week of Jesus’ passion. As we do this, let us hold fast to these words from the writer of Hebrews:

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 11:23-25).

In the week after Easter our contractor will be making a big push to complete several portions of our renovation project. I know you join me in praying for their continued good work and safety as they work on our behalf to prepare a great space for our children. Thanks for all you do to support the ministry of the people called Methodist on Queen Street.

Grace and Peace, Allen