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!”

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…

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…

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…