The Malone Family Annual 2016

So…I haven’t been blogging, but I’m committed to changing that habit. Look for a post once a week with mostly random thoughts, but to get back in the “spirit” of things, here’s a Christmas season catch-up for anyone who is interested.

The Malone Family Annual 2016

I must confess that I took 2015 off from writing the Malone Family Annual. I don’t know why I did. There are no good excuses, but as someone once said, “When you’re looking for an excuse, any excuse will do.” I won’t make an excuse. I took the year off. Don’t think, however, that you’ll get two years’ worth of news. I’ll bring you up to date on the past year and if you want news from other years, well, get on Facebook!

The year started off with Vanessa and me doing one of the silliest things we’ve ever done. We bought a house in Alabama! I don’t know why we did. I’d like to say it was my great business acumen that convinced Vanessa it would be a great investment, but really it was our banker convincing her we could make money on it if we decided to sell it. Anyway…we bought it, and yes, it is for rent! If you’re looking for a beach vacation, give us a call. We’ll hook you up! (Click here to make a reservation!)

pushmataha2016 also afforded Vanessa and me the opportunity to be reality TV stars. That’s right! We appeared on an episode of Island Life on HGTV. Oddly enough, the episode aired on Easter Sunday, March 27th. Here’s what I learned about reality TV during that adventure:

  • There’s nothing real about reality TV (it’s all scripted).
  • Making a TV show is hard work (three 14-hour days to shoot 19 minutes of video).
  • When someone asks you “Would you like to be on a reality TV show?” your first question should be “How much are you going to pay me?” (Our 15 minutes of fame actually cost us money!).

gc2016-logo-color-hi-res-690x370I was blessed (if blessed is the right word) to spend two weeks in May in Portland, OR at the General Conference for the United Methodist Church. It was my first trip to the Pacific Northwest, and it is a breathtaking part of the country. I took a day trip to Seaside, WA and dipped my toes in the Pacific Ocean. It was on a Sunday. May I confess I DID NOT go to worship that day? May I ask your forgiveness? General Conference was a neat and interesting experience.

Vanessa and I spent four days in Wichita, KS in July for Jurisdictional Conference for the South Central Jurisdiction of the UMC. It was the culmination of what I call my “pseudo” candidacy for Bishop in the UMC. I thought I heard God’s call to offer myself for the Episcopal office. Well, after Jurisdictional Conference, I’m not certain what I heard, but it obviously wasn’t that! I continue (gladly) to serve as Pastor at FUMC, Monroe. But, enough about me…

Vanessa continues to spend her time taking care of me and taking care of our grandchildren (she much prefers taking care of the grandchildren). Of course, each of those tasks over the past year fell between the demands of the BIG news in the Malone family this year (more on that in a minute), but suffice it to say, she’s stayed as busy as she wanted to stay. She has stayed busy settling us into a new house. Yes, that’s right, we sold our house here in Monroe, and no, that’s not the BIG news. Why did we sell our house? Well, when someone knocks on your door and asks you how much it would take to buy your house, you throw out a number and they accept it, you tend to sell it. It only means one thing, though: we left money on the table. We’re in a rental and looking for a new one to buy. Check next year’s Annual for updates.

family-wedding-pic-2So, on to the BIG news. On December 3, 2016, Kelsey Malone became Kelsey Malone Ingram as she married Matthew Ingram. The couple are at home now in West Monroe, LA where she is a customer service representative with State Farm Insurance (and she continues to serve on staff at FUMC as contemporary worship leader) and Matthew is in computers with CenturyLink.

Brittney is at home in West Monroe and is a sales representative with Republic Beverage. Adam and his two boys (Kade and Kobyn) call West Monroe home but he works half the year in Malaysia. Josh, Piper and their brood (Peyton, Ryder and Skyler) still call Minden home. Not much news about the children this year. They don’t live at home anymore, so we don’t have nearly as much news as we once did.

Well, that’s certainly the Reader’s Digest version of the Malone family news for 2016. I’ll stop because I’m tired of writing, and I KNOW you’re tired of reading. I’ll simply say “Merry Christmas and Happy and Blessed New Year!”

Christmas Stinks!

grinchChristmas stinks! Or, so would say the Grinch who stole Christmas. You remember the Grinch? The slinky, green ogre of a character created by Dr. Seuss whose heart was too small to love and appreciate Christmas? We know the story. All the Who’s down in Whoville make the Grinch cringe with all their joy and happiness, and so the Grinch does his best to literally steal the joy of the holiday.

Click here to watch the original version of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

There was probably not much the Grinch was right about, but I will say that Christmas stinks. Before you call me the Grinch, I ask you to think about this with me for a moment. In your mind’s eye, see if you can go back a little over 2,000 years to a tiny village in the Judean wilderness. We have such a quaint picture in our minds of what that first Christmas was like. Most of our greeting cards and nativity scenes are populated with colorful flowing robes and pristine figures so it fools us into believing that it was a quaint, pristine time. Well, folks, it stunk! Remember that Christmas came in a barn.

There were basically two ways people kept their livestock in those days. First, there was the inner room of the home. On the interior of the home was a large room full of straw, mangers and other necessities for keeping the animals. Most people weren’t rich, and their homes were very modest, and they didn’t own much livestock anyway. You might be interested to know the Paschal Lamb (the lamb used for the Passover meal) was actually a family pet that had been raised IN the home. People didn’t own barns, so their homes were constructed so that their animals were kept on the very interior of the home, and the living quarters ringed the stable. I’m not sure if you know it or not, but sheep stink!

The other type of stable was generally a cave, and this is most likely where those who came to Bethlehem on that first Christmas would find Joseph and Mary. They had gone to the innkeeper to find a room, but all he had to offer was a stable, probably behind the inn or down the street, or even on the edge of town. A cave–dark, damp, and musty. Add to the damp, musty smell of the cave some really smelly sheep, a few lowing cattle, and who knows, a few chickens (there probably weren’t any pigs—they were Jews, you know?) and you have all the makings for a really stinky place to have a baby. Yeah, let’s not even talk about the smell of that! We must not forget, either, that there was a cast of characters who came to the cave that night who were quite smelly in their own right—the shepherds. Keeping smelly sheep out in the fields of Palestine was not conducive to bathing on a regular basis. It’s highly unlikely these shepherds would have stopped by the local bathhouse before making their way to the grotto that day. Put all these elements together and we have a recipe for one malodorous mixture. Let’s just say, this was not your mother’s Jean Nate.

What an image! What a breathtakingly beautiful image! Beautiful because we know it was God entering this world. It was God taking on human flesh. It was God coming to show us what He looks like, and when God showed up, He showed up in the smelliest, lowliest place on earth. It was the most beautifully rancid place on earth, and it changed the world. The presence of Jesus transformed the dank, dark, smelly confines of a cave into a place of light, and life and love. That’s what Christmas did. That’s what Christmas does.

Christmas means God is with us—Immanuel! God is still invading this smelly old world of ours. We know that God has come in Jesus to transform our dark hearts made rancid by the stink of sin in our lives. We need transformation—all of us—all the time. I am reminded of Scottish pastor Alexander Whyte. He faithfully served his congregation in the Scottish countryside for over 40 years, and was known by all in the community as a saintly man. One day a parishioner came to Rev. Whyte and exclaimed, “Oh, Rev. Whyte, we’re so blessed to have you as our pastor. You’re such a saint!”

Rev. Whyte looked at the parishioner and replied, “Madam, if you could see my heart you’d spit in my face.”

None of us is exempt from the stinkiness that is sin in our lives. Hatred, greed, pride, arrogance, apathy and jealousy are just a few of the sins that we battle almost daily, and let’s not even get into some of those “gray” areas that we like to debate these days. Yes, it stinks, I tell you, but Christmas reminds me that the Christ who was born in a stinky barn desires to be born in me, and the same Christ who transformed that stinky old cave can transform stinky old me.

I am reminded, too, that the stink of sin, while even being transformed in me still captures much of this world. It stinks that we live in a world where war continues to take innocent lives and force refugees to flee homes and families and livelihoods. It stinks that there are children this night who will go to bed hungry, and that in a world where there is such abundance that anyone should starve. Some starve because there aren’t resources to feed them, and others starve because people withhold resources as a show of power, or as punitive action against a rival. It stinks that we live in a political climate that is so deeply divided that the good that could be done so rarely gets done because of personal agendas and desire for control. It stinks that we live in a world where our children are no longer safe from predators who would rob them of their innocence. It stinks that we live in a world where young women are kidnapped and forced into the slavery of the sex trafficking business that will be flourishing over the next several weeks as playoffs and national championships and Super Bowls will be going full blast. It stinks that in the next twelve months there will be 40 million abortions worldwide. It stinks that over the next twelve months it is projected that substance abuse and other addictive behaviors will have over a 600 BILLION dollar impact on the economy, not to mention the destruction to families, the loss of jobs, the failures in school, the domestic violence and child abuse. It stinks, I tell you, but Christmas reminds me that God is still with us, and that He seeks to be born in us to transform the darkness and the dankness and the smelliness of this broken world. Yes, those are stinky places, but if we will take the time to get out of our comfortable little worlds, we just might discover that God is there because Christmas reminds us that God is born in the stinky places of this world, born to bring light and life and love. As Christ is born in us, we can bring the sweet aroma of his presence into those terribly smelly places.

It’s certainly not in the way the Grinch meant, but yes, Christmas stinks. But isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it sweet? Isn’t it good?

Merry Christmas!

Until next time, keep looking up…

Mary! You Did Know…

Did you catch The Voice finals last week? Jordan Smith captured America’s attention (and their votes) with a stirring rendition of the now classic Christmas song Mary, Did You Know. Smith closed the competition with a song that his coach, Adam Levine, didn’t want him to sing, but in the end, even Levine said Smith made the right choice.

Mary, Did You Know has become a Christmas classic since Michael English first recorded the song in 1991. The words of the song were written by Christian comedian Mark Lowry with the music written by musician Buddy Green. Lowry said the song evolved as he contemplated sitting with the Virgin Mary over a cup of coffee, and the questions he would ask her.

You can watch Mark Lowry’s performance of Mary, Did You Know by clicking here.

Long before Lowry and Green put their song together, Mary sang her own song (found in Luke 1: 39-56) about her little boy, and the words she sang reveal the truth that yes, in fact, Mary did know.

Mary lived in an expectant time for the nation of Israel. The Scriptures had promised the coming of the Messiah, and rumors were rampant that he was coming at any time (sound familiar?). The Messiah was going to turn the world around and deliver Israel from all her enemies. He would usher in the kingdom of God. But if those people who were so high with expectation had gone to a stable in the town of Bethlehem they might have said, “That’s it? That’s the Messiah?” No one could have guessed how this child would change the world. No one could have imagined the impact he would have on world history and the change he would make in people’s lives. No one, perhaps, except Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. Yes, Mary you did know!

Mary, you knew that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters. Mary, you knew that this child you delivered would one day deliver you…and all the others who would believe in him. She knew this baby had walked where angels trod, and that when she kissed her little baby, she kissed the face of God. Her song reveals she did. Her song is called the Magnificat, and it speaks of the glory and the deliverance and the salvation of God. Mary knew because her song put the focus squarely on God. Mary shows a maturity that is wise beyond her years.

Let’s remember that Mary is probably around 13 years of age, but certainly not more than 16 years of age. Betrothals were often made when a young lady was 13, and the marriage was generally a year later. It would have been unlikely she would have been much older. It would not have been culturally correct. At such a innocent age, Mary turns her focus to God. She gives God the glory, and she sings a song of love, a song of hope and a song of faith.

As soon as Mary hears the words of Elizabeth, Mary knew in her spirit that what had happened to her was for real. Praise erupted from deep within like an overflowing fountain. The moment that she and her people had waited for so long had finally arrived. God had heard the cries and the longings of His children and the work of salvation had begun.

Faith grows out of worship, and Mary’s entire song is worship. Worship takes the attention off us and focuses it on God. Worship is the environment that is perfect for strengthening and deepening faith because faith keeps its vision focused on the word and promises of God and not on the surrounding circumstances. According to Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is believing that because God has declared something, it is already an accomplished fact even if the tangible and visible evidence is not immediately apparent to our senses. Mary sang of God’s salvation, even though nothing around her changed. Mary was still a pregnant young girl from Nazareth. The Romans and the Jewish king, Herod, still ruled with an iron fist, the rich still had their goods and the poor continued to struggle. But, Mary sang because she saw a vision of the changed world God was bringing into being through her son…a world where all wrongs will be righted, where every injustice will be corrected, where the oppressed and downtrodden will be lifted up and those who have elevated and exalted themselves will be humbled.

Yes, Mary did know, and because she knew, she could say, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Here’s what we need to know: This same Jesus seeks to continue becoming flesh, to continue being expressed through willing men and women, and to dwell among us. You and I were each especially made to be a dwelling place for God. You and I are the sacred vessels through which He will make Himself known in our homes, our families, our schools and our communities. The “church” building is not the place. The Temple in Jerusalem is not the place. You and I are the place.

This Advent season, Jesus comes to us, the least likely individuals in the least likely of places and He says to you and me, as the angel did to Mary, “You who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” He promises the outpouring of His Holy Spirit upon us so that Christ might be formed within us. God forces Himself on no one. He takes the initiative and He makes the invitation. Because Mary did know, you and I are here this morning and have a living hope, a steadfast faith, and the experience of God’s eternal and life-transforming love. This hurting and broken world doesn’t need to know if Mary knew. This hurting and broken world needs to know if we do.

Until next time, keep looking up…

Partnerships, Presents and Preparation (Or, Fruit for Christmas)…

Merry Christmas. Here’s your orange. No joke. An orange was a pretty common Christmas gift in years gone by, especially during the Great Depression. A child would awaken on Christmas morning to find a stocking stuffed with an orange, and apple, perhaps a banana, a few nuts, and if especially blessed, some hard candy. That was Christmas…that, and a trip to church on Christmas morning. Yet, that fresh fruit represented a sacrifice for the parents. Not much fresh fruit in the wintertime, unless you lived in southern California or Florida. If there were other gifts they were usually homemade or handmade. And, they were special. It was a time when it truly was the thought that counted. Getting fruit for Christmas was a big deal, and might I suggest this morning, giving fruit for Christmas is a big deal.

When I say fruit, I’m not talking about apples and oranges, although do a Google search for “fruit for Christmas” and you’ll get 117 million results, and at least the first three pages will be websites selling fruit baskets for Christmas, so there must still be lots of fruit given at Christmas time. No, I’m talking about the fruit of repentance of which John the Baptist preached in Luke 3: 7 – 18. John the Baptist was working to prepare the way for the coming of Christ, and part of the preparation was repentance.

John the Baptist preached repentance, and the words he used were some pretty harsh words, but when people heard the words, they were cut to their hearts. We read the words of this gruff character with his wild clothes and wild diet proclaiming what sounds like to us a “turn-or-burn” message. Seriously, nowhere in the Dale Carnegie book How to Win Friends and Influence People does it ever suggest you begin your message by calling your audience a bunch of snakes. But, it worked for John! People were responding to his message. Although, sometimes tough love can be the best love. We need tough love every now and again. Basically, though, John’s message  boils down to a very simple imperative—repent. Repentance prepares the way for the coming of Christ.

What do we mean by repentance? Well, John the Baptist was not “politically correct” in the way he talked about repentance, but that doesn’t change the necessity of repentance if one was going to be ready for Christ. God is a holy God, and God desires a relationship with us, but we let sin get in the way. Repentance is an acknowledgement that we’re on the wrong path. That’s what John was saying to his first century audience, and when they heard John, they knew something was missing. They all wanted to know, “What should we do?”

When we talk about repentance, we’re not simply talking about saying “I’m sorry.” It’s not enough to feel sorry in your heart for wrongs committed. It’s not enough to regret choices made that didn’t honor God. Something needs to be done. Outward actions must accompany inward decisions. Repentance is not simply a private, personal choice that one makes in the quietness of a solitary moment. Repentance means changing directions. Repentance is not simply coming to the realization that “I’ve made some bad decisions…I’m sorry for getting in this mess!” No, repentance means ‘turning around’, getting on a different road, getting things right with God.

What should we do? That was the question the people asked John that day, and John was more than willing to answer them. John says to prove that we’re changed by the way we live…produce fruit that shows our heart.

Now, wait a minute, preacher. What’s with this fruit thing you’re talking about? Producing fruit? Aren’t you getting mighty close to works righteousness? You’re not telling me I have to work my way to heaven, are you? No, no, no! Fruit doesn’t guarantee our salvation. What John is implying, and what the Bible teaches is that fruit comes as a result of our salvation. That’s exactly what John Wesley taught, too. He talked about producing “fruit meet for repentance.” It was for him about turning from doing evil and learning to do well. That’s what John the Baptist told the people gathered around him that day, “Stop what you’re doing and do something else instead.” “If you’ve got enough food and clothes, give some of it away.” “If you’ve been dishonest, don’t be dishonest anymore.” “If you’ve been discontented with anything, don’t be discontented any longer…at least not about those things.” An inward attitude should be reflected in an outer change. The inward attitude should be reflected in the fruit our lives bear. To say it another way, fruit is the tangible way to measure the work of God in the body of Christ.

If I may be practical for a moment, I see four specific fruit John mentions that reflect a changed life. First, there is generosity. Do you have two coats? Give one away to the poor. Generosity shows our preparation for the coming of Christ. Second is compassion. Do I have food? Share it with the hungry! Third, I see integrity. He spoke to the tax collectors and said, “Don’t collect more taxes than you’re supposed to. Be honest.” And, to the soldiers, he said, “Don’t extort money from people or lie about them.” Don’t do what you’ve become accustomed to doing. Do life differently. Finally, I see contentment. John says to the soldiers, “be content with your pay.” Generosity, compassion, integrity and contentment—those are certainly very practical ways to live a new and different kind of life. Each of these certainly indicates a change in the direction of a life.

The congregation of FUMC, Monroe celebrates Christmas for the Children.

The congregation of FUMC, Monroe celebrates Christmas for the Children.

Perhaps we need to practice a little repentance as we prepare for the coming again of Christ. Maybe we already are! On Sunday, December 13th, the altar of First United Methodist Church, Monroe was filled with generosity. That day, the congregation celebrated “Christmas for the Children” and was, for me, I think, evidence of repentance. It was an overflowing generosity from this congregation…generosity borne out of a deep compassion for the poor and less fortunate. I was amazed as I saw each gift and considered its value, but its value was not in the money each person had invested. Its value is in the joy and hope it brings to every child who receives each gift. And, how many years has this generosity overflowed in partnership with the Salvation Army? Fifteen years together. That’s awfully good fruit!

You can watch the entire worship service by clicking here.

What an appropriate partnership, too. William Booth, along with his wife, Catherine, founded the Salvation Army in July 1865 to serve the poor in East End London. Before Booth founded the Salvation Army, he was a Methodist circuit preacher. Booth, like John Wesley before him, abandoned the conventional concept of a church and a pulpit, instead taking his message to the people. His fervor led to disagreement with church leaders in London, who preferred traditional methods. As a result, he withdrew from the church and traveled throughout England, conducting evangelistic meetings.

Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, and drunkards were among Booth’s first converts to Christianity. To congregations who were desperately poor, he preached hope and salvation. His aim was to lead people to Christ and link them to a church for further spiritual guidance. Booth continued giving his new converts spiritual direction, challenging them to save others like themselves. Soon, they too were preaching and singing in the streets as a living testimony to the power of God. Generosity and compassion were changing the world. Methodists and Salvationists share a common thread of history of caring for the poor, rooted in the theology of John Wesley who said “does not God command us to repent and…also ‘to bring forth fruit meet for repentance’.” The fruit of our heritage, the fruit of our repentance, the fruit of our faith is generosity, compassion, integrity and contentment, and we bear this fruit, not only at Christmas, but every day that we live as disciples of Jesus Christ…as those who are preparing for His coming again. That’s our fruit for Christmas! Bear it…and, share it!

Until next time, keep looking up…

 

Unexpected!

unexpectedEvery one of us has certain expectations at Christmas. We expect to buy gifts and we expect to receive gifts. We expect the lights and the colors and the sights and the sounds of the season. We expect to eat a lot! We expect long lines in the department stores, and apparently this year more than ever, we expect to avoid those lines by ordering on-line and having it delivered to our home or office. We expect to be rushed from event to event, from party to party, from school play to church social. We expect to see family and friends. There is much about Christmas that is expected.

We expect, too, when we go to church at Christmas that we’re going to hear something about the Christmas story. It is quite unexpected to be reading and hearing about John the Baptist at Christmas! God did some pretty unexpected things that first Christmas—like coming into the world as an infant! But, God has always done the unexpected, and John the Baptist is an example. Besides, this is Advent, and remember that Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of Christ, and John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare for the coming of Christ. God used an unexpected time, and an unexpected person, and an unexpected message to speak His revelation.

It was an unexpected time. Luke sets the time in the context of the political and religious climate of the first century ancient near east. Israel was under the hand of oppressive leadership, both politically and religiously. Luke, ever the historian, notes Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, and Herod and his brother Philip as the political leaders, and Annas and Caiaphas as the high priests—who would be considered the religious leaders. Additionally, the prophets (who were God’s spokespersons) hadn’t spoken in over 400 years. Everyone expected that God didn’t care. Yet, when it was least expected, Luke tells us “it was at this time a message came from God…”

There was also an unexpected person. This message, Luke tells us, came to John, the son of Zechariah. We call him John the Baptist. It was quite unexpected that God would use this strange man who lived out in the desert and had a crazy wardrobe of camel hair, and had a steady diet of locusts and wild honey. No, we would expect that God would use the religious leaders, or even the political leaders of the day. Don’t they speak for God? Ha! We can’t always assume that God will use the religious leaders to do His bidding. This passage…this event…challenges me. After all, I’m considered a religious leader. It forces me to ask, “What am I doing with what God has entrusted to me?” And, we say we live in a Christian nation (debatable, I know), but seriously, we can’t ever expect our political leaders to speak for God. We can pray for them. We can hope they’ll be in tune to God’s will, that they’ll embody some kind of spirituality, but this passage reminds me that God chose a crazy man from the backside of the desert to deliver his message to a hurting, longing world.

There was an unexpected message, and that was “The King is coming!” It was a call to get ready, and there was some pretty specific instruction as to how that was to look: repentance and baptism. Well, what was unexpected about that? After all, these were not foreign concepts to first century folks. The Old Testament has many examples of people turning from sin and God forgiving them. One of the most prominent examples the Jewish people knew was of David’s repentance when Samuel confronted him concerning his sin with Bathsheba. David said, “I have sinned against the Lord!” But, Samuel said, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you.” Zacchaeus, in Luke 19, is an example of a Jewish person who repented. After his encounter with Jesus, he gave away half his wealth and paid back up to four times that which he had cheated from others. I’m not sure whether you realize it or not, but that’s a lot of money!

Likewise, these Jewish people would be well familiar with the idea of baptism, for Gentile converts who came to the Jewish faith had to be baptized to be considered Jewish. They were baptized into the faith. But, baptism was for Gentiles. The unexpected twist was John was preaching baptism to Jewish folk. They needed to be baptized? Now, that was unexpected! It was an unexpected person in an unexpected time preaching an unexpected message. There are a few implications we can draw from this passage.

First, God is never not near. God is always present, even in those times we can’t see or feel him…even in those times when God seems silent. Sometimes (so I’ve been reminded), God is simply too near to see. God hasn’t forgotten us! God hasn’t forgotten the United States of America. God hasn’t forgotten the Syrian refugees. God hasn’t forgotten the hungry child in Africa. God hasn’t forgotten the lonely widow. God hasn’t forgotten the unemployed oil field worker, and God has forgotten you. When we least expect it, God will be right here…meeting our need, but more importantly, doing His will.

Second, life always happens in God’s time.  Our problem is our understanding of time. How is it we say that we never have enough time, but we’ll make time for that project or meeting or social event we desire to attend? We mark time by dates on a calendar, by days and weeks and years, by hours and minutes and seconds. The ancient Greeks had two words for time—chronos and Kairos. Chronos time is that time we mark with the calendar and watch. We measure it. Kairos is different. We can’t translate it precisely, it refers to time that is opportune. Chronos is quantitative. Kairos is qualitative. God operates by Kairos time.

Third, God uses nobodies from nowhere. I’m the perfect example of that fact. I’m just a Bubba from Jackson Parish, LA. Jackson Parish may not be the backside of the desert, but it’s as close to the backside of nowhere as you’ll ever come. Never in a million years would I have ever dreamed of pastoring First United Methodist Church of Monroe. Actually, being a pastor at all was not one of the things on my check-list of things to do. But God uses nobodies from nowhere to speak to a hurting and broken world.

Even after I came to ministry, I could never believe I’d pack my family up and move them 800 miles away to go to seminary, but God calls, and when God calls we go. Because God uses people from the backside of nowhere to make a difference in the Kingdom. Never would I believe that I would pastor some of the best churches in Louisiana. Seriously, I’ve had colleagues share horror stories of churches served, but I can honestly say that I’ve never had a bad appointment. Not one.

Never in a million years would I believe I would have the opportunity to serve the church as a District Superintendent, but when God calls we answer, and I served the best district in the Annual Conference for two years. And, I must confess, never in a million years would I believe God would ever call me to offer myself in service to the larger Church as a candidate for the office of bishop in the United Methodist Church. But, Vanessa and I believe that is what God is calling us to do in this coming year. Now that is totally unexpected!

What does this mean for First United Methodist Church? Nothing, for now. Nothing will change in the near future. Bishops are elected by the Church, and election for bishop will be held in July 2016 at Jurisdictional Conference. Because it is an elected position, there is the very real possibility that nothing will change. I will stand for election, and if not elected, I will continue serving as your pastor. If elected, however, I will begin service as a bishop immediately and FUMC will be appointed a new pastor. In the meantime, I will continue to preach and lead as I’ve done over the past two and a half years. The vision God has entrusted to us will continue to move forward in the same manner as if I were not surrendering to this call.

I love serving you as your pastor, and nothing would please me more than to continue serving you as such for a very long time. God may, indeed, make a way for that to happen. Surrendering to this call is simply my desire to live in obedience to God. Vanessa and I have wrestled with this call since January, and after having said “No” on two occasions, we were compelled to not say “No” a third time (I’ll have to tell you the whole story sometime).

I know there are a multitude of questions. I confess I don’t have all the answers. This is a new experience for me, too, so we’ll walk this journey together. But, I’ll answer as many questions as I possibly can in the coming months. I covet your prayers for Vanessa, my family and myself as we offer ourselves to the broader Kingdom of God in this way. And, continue prayer for our congregation as we seek God’s will for all our lives.

 

We still have to live in the meantime. How appropriate, especially since Advent reminds us that we “live in the meantime”—between Jesus’ coming and his coming again. In the meantime, Jesus still meets us in quite unexpected ways. Where is He meeting you?

Until next time, keep looking up…

Delivery Not Included…

I’m not sure why I’m writing this blog, but with the Christmas season beginning in earnest and the Black Friday sales already being touted, I thought it a good time to offer my opinion on a subject that is getting a lot of press recently. This won’t be a long blog, but it will be a pointed one.buy-local

Retail brick-and-mortar has taken a big hit recently. Iconic retailer Macy’s reported disappointing sales for the quarter, setting off a trend of similar reports from other retailers like Nordstrom’s. That likely means as other giant retailers report their sales, the trend will continue. Experts say it’s mostly because of all the on-line purchases taking place these days. Yes, the smart phone and computer have changed the way we make purchases…even at Christmas, and it’s showing up in cash registers in brick-and-mortar stores. And I, for one, think that’s sad.

I grew up in retail. My grandparents owned a general mercantile (that’s Wal-Mart before there was a Wal-Mart) in the small town where I grew up. It was a community gathering place that was filled with people, especially on weekends. More importantly, it provided jobs and a healthy tax base for the community. That’s why I have a huge place in my heart for local retailing, and why I believe the move to more on-line shopping will ultimately impact our communities in a negative way.

Local shopping supports the local economy. The best way to support the local economy is to shop with local store owners. Even when we shop in the big stores (think Wal-Mart, Target, JC Penny, et. al.) we’re still supporting the local economy. That’s important. Supporting local retail keeps sales tax dollars local. Keeping sales tax dollars locally helps fund education, police and fire protection and infrastructure. We all demand our government provide those things, but every time we click on Amazon.com, or eBay.com, or some other on-line site, we are making a practical statement that we want those things, but to save a dollar (or two) we’re unwilling to pay for them. Every time we click, we’re also diminishing the ability of local and national retailers to retain local jobs, which keeps more money in the local economy.

Yes, I know, there are places on our tax returns now where the law says we’re supposed to report on-line purchases and pay the taxes on those purchases. Seriously? How many of us track our on-line purchases throughout the year and actually fill in the blank appropriately? Not that many, I’m betting. Besides, that’s only for the 4% state sales tax, and that does nothing for the local municipalities and parishes (counties) that depend on sales taxes collections to fund local government.

Yes, I know, even shopping the big box retailers sends capital to corporate headquarters away from the local community. Still, there are local people employed in those big box retailers who depend desperately on those jobs, and their jobs pump money back into the local economy (unless, of course, they go home and order those new shoes from Amazon.com).

There are only two reasons I can think of that people order on-line: cost and convenience. It’s easy to click a few icons, and in a matter of a few minutes have all my Christmas shopping done. What’s more, it’ll be delivered right to my door, or I can even have it delivered (already gift wrapped) to the person for whom it was purchased. And, I’ll save money (most of the time) in the process. Cost and convenience are great incentives for me to shop on-line.

But, I think there’s a greater reason to not, and that’s really what this blog is about. That greater reason is sacrifice. For me, shopping locally is a discipleship issue. A core principle in being a disciple of Jesus Christ is self-sacrifice. Yes, it’s a sacrifice to shop locally. Yes, it generally (though not always) costs us a little more money. Yes, it generally costs us a little more time, but we’re called (as disciples of Jesus Christ) to live in community, and that’s not only the community of faith, but the community in which we make our residence. We’re to be salt and light in those communities, and being salt and light also includes supporting local businesses and business owners with whom we go to school and church, with whom we play softball and soccer, with whom we share life. If we simply must shop on-line, let’s at least seek out local retail web-sites that sell the items for which we’re shopping.

Maybe I’m making more of the issue than I should, and yes, there have been times I’ve caught myself clicking the mouse for that on-line purchase (I’m not-the-perfect-pastor, remember?), but I really believe we can be an example of faithful disciples by supporting our local communities in every way possible–including with our retail shopping. Sure, there will be times when we can’t find that perfect gift locally, and for those times, I say “click away.” But, for all those other times, please…let’s go spend our dollars locally. Make the sacrifice.

Until next time, keep looking up…

The Malone Family Annual 2014…

I started a “tradition” in 2003 of writing an annual letter to send to friends and family to catch them up on the happenings of the Malone family. Not that anyone cared about the happenings of the Malone family, but a letter seemed an easier (and less expensive) method of staying in touch with friends from churches we served, and with family that we rarely ever saw, than purchasing tons of cards, writing a personal note in each one, and getting them in the mail.

So, 2014 will mark the 12th letter in the series, and the web and Facebook have made connecting with friends and family old and new easier than ever before. I’m posting the annual letter on my blog, I’ll link it to Facebook, and there’ll be a link on Twitter. All that kind of makes mailing the letter seem a little archaic, but we’ll mail as many as we ever do (actually, a few more–we add a few more each year), only those we mail will be later (you’ll probably get them after Christmas–it has something to do with four funerals in a week, preparations for three Christmas Eve worship services, and the lack of color ink for the printer). So, read it now…or, wait for the print edition…or, don’t read it. The choice, as always, is yours!

The Malone Family Annual

Christmas 2014

Malone Family 2014 (2)One more year behind. It doesn’t seem quite possible that an entire year has passed since I last wrote. I must confess this has been the fastest year of my life. I’ve blinked and it’s gone. I’ve blinked and the children are bigger (grandchildren, I mean—I suppose “older” might be a better word). I’ve blinked and my hair is a little grayer (at least it turned gray and not loose).

I’m not sure how much news there is to report this year, and I’m so late writing that this is more apt to be a New Year’s update rather than a Christmas update. I’ve just been too busy to sit down and write, and when I’ve not been busy, I’ve simply been too tired. Yes, I know. “You’re a pastor. You only work one day a week!” Yes, but that one day is a killer. Takes a whole week to recover!

Where should I begin? Vanessa and I have completed another year at First UMC, Monroe. It’s been a great year, too. We still enjoy spending as much time as we can on our back porch, especially by the fire pit, and Vanessa is enjoying spending as much time as possible being grandma. She travels every Thursday to Minden to keep Josh’s three—that’s right, three—but I’ll share more about that in a moment. One thing I’ve even considered is that with Facebook, this annual letter is becoming a little obsolete. Want to know what’s happening with the Malone Family? Just log on to Facebook. We post way too much stuff on there.

So, here’s the skinny on the Malone Family for 2014. Adam is at home in West Monroe with Felicia and their two boys, Kade (15) and Kobyn (11). Both the boys are quite musical, and we hope they continue to hone those talents in the future. They are all very active at FUMC, Monroe, and that’s a blessing, too. Also, Adam is now a professional writer. He writes a regular article at www.whodatdish.com. It’s all about the New Orleans Saints, a passion he and I both enjoy, so I’ve had fun reading his musings. He continues working for Noble Drilling Corporation, and is headed for Australia (probably by the time you receive this letter).

skyler (2)Josh and Piper’s big news, of course, is the birth of their third child at the end of September. Skyler Augustus Malone was born on September 29th. Mom and Dad call him Skyler (well, everyone else, too), but Poppy prefers to call him Gus-Gus. We’ll see how long he (or they) let me get away with that. Of course, the twins (Peyton and Ryder) have already taken Skyler under their wing and are teaching him all their mischievous ways. We’ll see where that leads.

Brittney and Kelsey are living at home now. Kelsey graduated from LA Tech University (Go Dawgs—we’re now a three Dawg family) in May, is exploring permanent, long-term (at least, that’s what Dad hopes) employment options, and continues to play the keyboard for our contemporary worship service as well as for J-Force, our children’s choir. Brittney will be moving to Bossier City in January. She’s taken a new position as manager at Hooter’s in Bossier City. She’s commuting from Monroe right now (send money, please), but will have her apartment beginning January 1. We’re happy for her. It’s the job she’s wanted for a long time. We’re glad it finally came to fruition.

That about catches everyone up on the happenings of the Malone Family for 2014. Seriously, just check Facebook. You’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know. We love you all. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Until next time, keep looking up…

Thanking Who?

Happy Thanksgiving! That’s simply enough said, and no, we haven’t slipped right past Thanksgiving and gone to Christmas (the store merchandising notwithstanding). I’ve noticed many instances on TV and radio reminding us to be thankful. And, we need reminding. What I’ve also noticed is that we need to be reminded who it is we’re really supposed to thank.

Thanksgiving-ImageI was watching Dancing with the Stars earlier this week (don’t you dare judge me), and there was a segment in the program where the finalists were giving thanks, but only Sadie Robertson gave thanks to God. The entire segment was a “thank you” to America, to the fans and viewers. Now, it’s appropriate for them to thank the viewers and fans. After all, without the viewers and fans, there would be no Dancing with the Stars, but thanking other people doesn’t capture the nature or intent of Thanksgiving.

Soon after watching DWTS, I saw a commercial advertising a holiday special hosted by reporter Robin Roberts entitled “Thank You, America!” According to the promo, this will be a special night shining “a light on the American spirit of gratitude,” and an evening that “recognizes ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their communities.” I’m certain it will be a nice, feel-good program for this Thanksgiving Thursday that will tug at our heart strings, and it’s appropriate to give thanks to others, and celebrate the good things they’ve done. But, again, I’m kinda’ thinking the program won’t capture the nature or intent of Thanksgiving.

I’m a little uncertain about what Thanksgiving is becoming, but may I offer a reminder about what Thanksgiving originally was? For us in the good ole’ U. S. of A., Thanksgiving goes all the way back to 1621, and the pilgrims giving thanks to Almighty God for a great harvest, and for the preservation of their lives. George Washington, in 1789, made a public proclamation saying “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor?” He recommended and assigned Thursday, the 26th day of November 1789 to be a day of Thanksgiving. And, may we never forget President Lincoln’s proclamation of October 1863, when in the midst of Civil War he proclaimed:

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

 In every instance, the call was to remember God—to stop, to think, to give thanks TO God. It’s easy for us to think about family. Most of us will be going to be with family, or family will be coming to be with us, and we’ll be appropriately grateful. It’s also easy for us to think about food because most of our tables will be filled with turkey and dressing and all the trimmings, and pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie and pecan pie, and fresh baked rolls, and we’ll be  appropriately thankful. It’ll be easy for us to think about football, waiting anxiously for the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys to play their respective games, because they, too, have become Thanksgiving traditions, and we’ll be appropriately grateful that we can enjoy a lazy day of family, food and football. These are things we have, and the focus is appropriate. But our greatest focus today should be on God.

Psalm 100 is on my mind early this morning:

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
    Worship the Lord with gladness.
    Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.[a]
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

The Psalms (the Hebrew song book) are filled with songs of thanksgiving. No less than 15 psalms have “thanksgiving” in the title, and a full 24 of the psalms give specific command to “give thanks.” Psalm 100 is one that includes both. Why did the ancient Israelites have so many songs about thanksgiving? The songs were reminders. So often throughout the early books of the Old Testament, God was always reminding the people that when they made it to the promised land, got settled there, got comfortable, were warm and well-fed, not to forget Him. God would say, “Don’t forget the reason you’re where you are. Don’t forget to ‘give thanks’.”

Psalm 100 is one of the songs the people would sing as they were going into the Temple. It served to set the attitude of the people’s heart as they went into worship. It was a reminder that when you come to worship, bring this attitude…have this attitude within you. It certainly gives the indication that gratitude was a matter of choice. Gratitude is a decision of the will, and if a decision of the will, the choice resides squarely with us. Psalm 100 is a reminder that God is good, God is merciful, God is faithful; that when we are in the ease and comfort of life, when it becomes so easy to forget, remember that we have God, and more importantly, God has us. I do believe that was the nature and intent of any of the early Thanksgiving holidays.

I kinda’ sound a little ungrateful, don’t I? I think I may even come across as a little whiny about the continuing secularization of our culture. I’m sorry if I do, but it just seems to me that someone ought to say something, and if someone ought to say something, it might as well be me. So, HAPPY THANKSGIVING, but please remember that our first thanks is to God.

Until next time, keep looking up…