Monday, April 23, 2018

Missionary Dreams, pt. 3: GOD'S Missionary Dreams

Do me a favor.  If you attend our JUBILEE contemporary service, DON'T READ THIS! Why? Because I'll be preaching this sermon in Jubilee this coming Sunday (April 29). 

Here's the deal: Normally I would preach the same sermon in all three of our Main Street services--8:30, Jubilee, and 11:00. But yesterday we did something for the first time ever (and from what I hear it went great)--our Alpha and Omega Youth Choir did their spring musical in Jubilee! So I preached at the two sanctuary services while that was going on--and then next Sunday I'll preach at Jubilee while A&O does their musical in the sanctuary. 

Did you get that? 

Bottom line: Here's yesterday's sermon for 8:30 & 11:00 folks who missed it. If you're coming to Jubilee, you might hold off reading this. 

Isaiah 11:6-9, Revelation 21:1-7

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.  
–Isaiah 11:6-9, New Revised Standard Version

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
--Revelation 21:1-7, NRSV

-  Two weeks ago I did a sermon called “Missionary Dreams,” and I said, “I’ve always wanted to be a missionary.”

And then last week I did a sermon called “YOUR Missionary Dreams,” and I said, “You’ve always wanted to be a missionary.”

And now this week I’m going to say this:

God IS a missionary!

In fact, God is THE missionary—the original missionary. And all Christian mission flows from the missionary dreams of God!

It starts in Genesis chapter 3 when the first man and the first woman eat the forbidden fruit. And they have the first-ever wardrobe malfunction, and they look at each other and say, “Oh my goodness, we’re naked!”

And so they run through the garden and hide from God.

And what does God do?  Does he shake his head and say, “Good riddance?” NO! What does God do? He goes looking for his lost children!

And ever since then, God has been on a mission. It’s a mission of healing and hope … a mission of life and love … a mission of reconciliation and restoration. Theologians call this the

Missio Dei: The Mission of God

I’ve always wanted to be a missionary. You’ve always wanted to be a missionary. And God is THE missionary.

And just like you, and just like me, God has “Missionary Dreams.”

LET’S PRAY: Lord, open our eyes to see your vision of the future. Open our hearts and let us catch your dream. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

It was 50 years ago this month that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. His most famous speech was given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington when he said, “I have a dream.”

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

“I have a dream today.

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

Did you know that GOD has a dream?  Just like all of us, GOD DREAMS of a better future.

God has a dream—that one day “…the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9b).

And in that day, there will be no more fighting, no more violence, no more war, no more strife:  “They will neither hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9a).
God has a dream—that one day, natural enemies will live together in peace:
                        Wolves with lambs;
                        Lions with calves;
                        Poisonous snakes with little children.

God has a dream—that one day all things will be made new:
                        Death will be no more;
                        Mourning, crying and pain will be no more;
And the tears in our eyes will be wiped away by the hand of God.

God has a dream:
            It’s a dream of joy
            It’s a dream of peace
            It’s a dream of relationships and community
            It’s a dream of prosperity and health:
                        No more poverty
                        No more hunger
                        No more back pain
                        No more hip pain
                        No more heart attacks
                        No more cancer
                        No more death.
God says, “See, I am making all things new” (Revelation 7:5).

GOD HAS A DREAM. And I want you right now, to think of the biggest HURT you have ever experienced. It might be physical. It might be emotional. It might be both. Think about a time when you were really HURT.

NOW:  God’s dream is not to take that hurt away. Yes, you heard that right: God’s dream is not to take our hurts away.

God wants to do something better.

God wants to redeem our hurts – not just to erase them, but to transform them.

Did you ever notice that even after the Resurrection, Jesus still has scars? That’s how Thomas knew who he was. He put his finger in the nail wounds. He put his hands in his side where the spear went in.

The beautiful hymn that was sung at Lorie’s and my wedding says,

            Hail Him, the Lord of Love; behold his hands and side
            Those wounds yet visible above, in beauty glorified

That’s what God wants to do with your hurts and scars—not erase them, but redeem them.

God’s dream is to turn TRAGEDY into TRIUMPH!

And you know, that’s kind of what the story of the Bible is all about:

-          The tragedy of sin becomes the triumph of salvation.
-          The tragedy of crucifixion becomes the triumph of resurrection.
-          The tragedy of death becomes the triumph of new life.
-          The tragedy of suffering becomes the triumph of spiritual transformation.
-          The tragedy of the Fall in Genesis 3 becomes the triumph of New Creation in Revelation 21.

And when we get there, and God wipes the tears from our eyes, we’re going to realize that that’s worth so much more than if we’d never shed tears at all!

God’s dream is that one day you and I will look back on everything we’ve been through and say, “Praise God – it’s all been worth it.”

God has a dream—that one day the last will be first; the poor will be rich; the weak will be strong; the blind will see; the deaf will hear; and the crippled will leap for joy.

God has a dream—that one day people of every nation, race, tribe and tongue will stand together before the throne worshiping with one voice. Division and enmity will be swallowed up in unity.

God has a dream. And here’s the thing – GOD’S DREAM WILL COME TRUE.

The only question is will you be in on it?

One time I was in Chicago with a bunch of Methodist preachers for a training event. One evening we decided to take the famous Chicago Elevated Train (L) down to the South Side and catch a White Sox game. (The Cubbies weren’t in town, or we’d have spent the evening within the “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field!)

We went to the L station and we bought our tickets, and started through the turnstile. And at that point I saw the train coming and I said, “Come on, guys, we can just make it!”  And I took off and ran up the steps, and I was just about to get on the train—and I turned around and looked, and the other guys were way, way back, clomping up the steps.

I said, “Come on, guys, hurry up!” And they said, “Hold the train!”

And I said, “Guys, there’s no ‘hold the train’ – this is Chicago – this train’s going whether we’re on it or not!”

And at that moment, the doors closed and the train was gone.

And here’s the thing: The train of God’s Dream is going whether you get on it or not!

So are you on it?

I need to say two things about getting on the train of God’s dream. First: If you’re going to get on the train, you need a ticket. The train of God’s dream is headed toward a New Creation where those who belong to God will live together forever in his presence. But to get on that train, you need a ticket.

Now some of you are thinking, “No problem. I’ve got the ticket: I was baptized.” But that’s not the ticket.

Others of you might be thinking, “I’ve got the ticket: I’ve attended church my whole life! I’ve gone to Sunday school, I’ve served on committees, I’ve kept the nursery … surely I’ve got the ticket.” Well, I’m sorry—but that’s not the ticket.

Others of you might be thinking, “Well, I’m sure I’ve got the ticket—because I’m a good person. I’ve always been a good person. I’m always nice, and kind, and fair. I’ve never broken the law. Well, except maybe that time I cheated on my taxes. But that was just that one time. Otherwise, I’m a law-abiding citizen. Except for I did get caught speeding a few times. But other than that, I’m a good person.”

But that’s not the ticket, either. Because against the standard of God’s holiness, you and I are not nearly as good as we think we are.

There’s only one way to get a ticket to get on the train of God’s dream. You have to ask for it. You have to humble yourself and admit that all your attempts to purchase a ticket have fallen short. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). You’re not going to earn your way onto this train. But the Good News is that Jesus has already bought you a ticket. He paid for it when he died on the cross. What you have to do now is ask to get on the train—not because of your goodness, but because of God’s grace.

So first, to get on the train, you need a ticket. And here’s the second thing: Once you’re on the train, you need to get to work.

On the train of God’s dream, God has work for the passengers to do. Yes, it’s 100% God’s train. God is the engineer. God supplies the power. God makes the train go. But God calls us to participate with him in making his dreams come true.

So what’s your job on the train of God’s dream? Have you found it? Are you doing it?

Maybe your job is to tutor at-risk students at Kids First on Thursday nights. Maybe your job is to feed the hungry at Bethany Café.  Maybe your job is to teach children’s Sunday school, or help lead Kidspace or Vacation Bible School.  Maybe your job is to cook in the kitchen or sing in the choir.  Maybe your job is to lead a Disciple Bible Study.

Maybe your job is to fight human trafficking. Maybe your job is to do something about extreme poverty—to help the millions of people living on less than $2 a day—including many right here in the United States. Maybe your job is to blow the whistle on workplace harassment.

Maybe your job is the most important job in the church—to spend time on your knees battling the forces of evil through prayer.

There’s no one in this room who doesn’t have a job on the train of God’s dream.  No matter your age, your abilities, your physical health—there is a job you can do.

Have you found it? Are you doing it?


To get on the train of God’s dream, you need to Admit your sin, Believe in what Jesus did for you, and Commit your life to Christ.  Admit, Believe, Commit.  If you’ve never done that in a real and personal way, I want to give you a moment to do it now, in your own heart, in your own words.


And now, consider this: Have you found your job on God’s train? And are you doing it? If not, talk to God now, and ask him to show you what he wants you to do, and give you the power to do it.


God, thank you that the world we see around us, with all its pain and sorrow, sin and suffering, is not always going to be that way.  Thank you that you have a dream.  Thank you for allowing us to be part of that dream. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Missionary Dreams, Part 2: YOUR Missionary Dreams (Sermon for April 15)

Matthew 5:13-16

13 You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
                                                --Matthew 5:13-16 New Revised Standard Version

In my sermon last week I made a very important announcement. The basic gist of it was that starting in July, I’ll be stepping down from pastoral ministry for one year so I can do some mission work in Tanzania and Cambodia.

And I opened that message by saying, “I’ve always wanted to be a missionary.”

Now, here’s my message for today. Are you ready?


Now at this point you may be saying, “Claude! Last week I was concerned about your mental state. Now I KNOW you’ve gone off the rails! I have never wanted to be a missionary—to live in a grass hut in the jungle and eat insects for dinner!”

Well, I don’t want to do those things either. But I know for a fact that you, like me, have always wanted to be a missionary.

And here’s how I know: I know because within the heart of every human being there is a deep-seated need to make a difference.

It’s a basic, fundamental drive—the desire to make an impact on your environment. Psychologists call it the need for a “feeling of efficacy.” It’s a God-given desire to change the world around you.

This desire to make a difference is within you. You say, “Well why don’t I feel it?” The reason you don’t feel it is because it gets buried beneath the junk of everyday life. But trust me, it’s there.

You want to make a difference. You want to change the world.  You want to be a missionary.

Now, let me do like I did last week and define the terms.
Last week when I said “missionary,” I meant the kind that goes overseas.

This week when I say missionary, I mean ANY CHRISTIAN who obeys Jesus’ command to “Let your light shine before others.”

That can be you.

That should be you.

And deep down inside, you WANT IT to be you!

LET’S PRAY: Lord, awaken the Missionary Dreams in each of us. Show us what it means to be salt and light. Amen.

You’ve always wanted to be a missionary.

As a human being, you have basic fundamental needs. Physical needs: Air, water, food. Psychological needs: To feel loved, to feel safe, to feel valued. Spiritual needs: To be in relationship with God; to be forgiven; to grow spiritually.

And in addition to those, you have another deep-seated human need that is as basic as all the others: YOU NEED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

Every human being wants to know that their life counts. Kennon Callahan says,” What scares most of us about death is dying.  What further scares us is that, in the end, our lives might not have counted for anything.”


And that’s how I know that you’ve always wanted to be a missionary--because everybody wants to live a life with purpose. Everybody wants to be on mission—you know, like the Blues Brothers: “We’re a mission from God.” Or like Mission Impossible: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it …”

Everybody wants to be on mission. Everybody wants to make a difference. Everybody wants a life that matters!

And so, how wonderful, how amazing, how marvelous, what good news it is, that Jesus says to you today:

            “You are the salt of the earth”

This is a huge compliment, because in Jesus’ day, salt was extremely valuable. People were actually paid in salt. That’s where we get the word salary.

In those days salt was used as a preservative. They didn’t have refrigerators, freezers, Tupperware or Saran Wrap—so the only way they could keep food from going bad was to salt it.

Have you ever had beef jerky?  That’s beef preserved by salt.

Have you ever had country ham?  That’s pork preserved by salt.

Salt is a preservative.

So when Jesus comes to his followers and says, “You are the salt of the earth,” he’s saying that we are the preservative that keeps this world from going completely bad.

The preservative that slows down the decay of this world—IS YOU.

And then Jesus says, “You are the Light of the World.” Another huge compliment.

Because in Jesus’ day, light was a symbol for everything good, moral, holy, beautiful and true.

Light was a symbol of God’s Word: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Light was a symbol of life: “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life...”  (Isaiah 53:11).
Light was associated with the creative power of God. What’s the first thing God says in the Bible? “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).

Light was a symbol for teaching: “…this teaching is a light” (Proverbs 6:2).

In the time of Christ, light was associated with the soul. It was associated with doing the right thing. It was as symbol of TRUTH.

And Jesus says, “As my follower, YOU are the embodiment of all those good things to the world around you.”

Is that not awesome?

Everybody wants to make a difference. Everybody wants a life that matters. And so how wonderful to be told that you are

·         The salt that preserves the world
·         And the light that shines in the darkness

Now, let’s look at Matthew 5:13 and 16, and I’m going to tell you how to BE salt and light.  Two things:

First of all— STAY SALTY.

Verse 13:
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?
--Matthew 5:13

Now this is interesting, because strictly speaking, salt can’t lose its taste. Salt—sodium chloride—is a chemical compound that can’t break down.

There’s only one way for salt to lose its taste—and that’s for other stuff to get mixed in with it. The salt loses its taste when foreign substances get mixed in with the salt and its saltiness gets diluted.

Now listen: Salt is a symbol for the values of Jesus:

When we live by the values of Jesus,
we are the salt of the earth.

When mix in the values of the world,
we lose our saltiness.

Now, how do I know that salt is a symbol for living by the values of Jesus?  Because this statement comes right after the Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes are the “Blessed are” statements of Jesus: “Blessed are the poor in spirit;” “Blessed are the pure in heart;” “Blessed are the peacemakers;” and so on.

Right after Jesus gives that statement of values, he says to those who live by them, “You are the salt of the earth.” But if you mix in other values—the world’s values—values that are foreign to the kingdom of God – you lose your saltiness.

About a month ago, on March 18, I did a sermon on the Beatitudes called, “The Community’s Values.” And I said that the values of the Christian community are
-          Humility
-          Broken hearts
-          Gentleness
-          Spiritual Hunger
-          Mercy
-          Integrity
-          Peace-making
-          Concern for people on the margins

Please read that sermon again, because living by those values is how we STAY SALTY.

When we live by the values of Jesus,
we are the salt of the earth.

When mix in the values of the world,
we lose our saltiness.

So first of all, stay salty. Second, LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE.

Verse 16:
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
How do you let your light shine? Go out and do good works in the name of Christ:
-          Volunteer at a local school
-          Volunteer at an agency like Crisis Control or the Shepherd’s Center
-          Serve at Bethany Café
-          Help us park cars for Spring Folly
-          Get involved with Forsyth Prison Ministry
-          Work with Kids First on Thursday nights when we partner with First Baptist to do tutoring for at risk elementary students
-          Get involved with New Story Church

We’ve got our Community Picnic coming up in July—we’re going to join with other churches and feed the entire community at Fourth of July Park – Frank Robinson could use your help.

“Let your light shine”—and then when people see your good works, they’ll be much more likely to listen to your message.

So, stay salty, and let your light shine:

Stay Salty: Live by the values of Jesus.

Let your Light Shine: Go out and serve.

Do those two things in the power of the Holy Spirit, and you will be a missionary!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Meet Sam Om

As I announced plans for my mission-oriented Sabbatical Leave, I explained that in February I plan to travel to Cambodia to work with my good friend Sam Om.

Sam is a native of Cambodia who escaped the "Killing Fields" in the early 80s, and was admitted to the United States as a refugee.  He is now a US citizen and a missionary to his home country.

I met Sam in Charlotte in 1991.  We were both starting new churches; mine spoke English, his spoke Cambodian. We became sister churches, and a mutual partnership began that continues to this day.

Here are a couple of important links that will help you get to know Sam:

First, a blog post of mine from 2014 that briefly recounts Sam's dramatic story.

And second, the video of Sam's visit to Main Street UMC last summer.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Video from Tanzania--November, 2013

Yesterday in worship I talked about the wonderful experience I had teaching United Methodist local pastors in Tanzania. We showed portions of this video that I made when I came back. If you've got 15 minutes, check it out. You'll meet Eric and Liz Soard, the amazing missionaries I worked with in 2013--and will work with again later this year. You'll ride with Eric and me through the town of Tarime, and you'll see the countryside surrounding it. You'll see pictures of my "students" (really, I learned more from them than them from me). You'll see an interview with a pastor who started a church under a tree. 

And you'll hear music from "The Lion King." Did you know that the African language you hear in those songs is Swahili (the language most people speak in Tanzania)? "Simba" means lion, "Rafiki" means friend, "Pumbaa" means foolish ... one of the many interesting things you learn when you go overseas!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

"Missionary Dreams" -- Sermon for April 8, 2018

Today's sermon is not just a sermon. It also contains an important announcement. Well, two, really.

Drawing from a young boy who was listening to today's sermon!

Genesis 12:1-4; Matthew 28:16-20

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
            Genesis 12:1-4 New International Version

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
            Matthew 28:16-20 New International Version

I’ve always wanted to be a missionary.

Now let me stop right there and say—all Christians are missionaries. Every Christian is called to spread the word, shine the light, make a difference. Every Christian is called to follow God in mission to the world.

But when I say I’ve always wanted to be a missionary, I’m talking about a missionary like Nick and Katie Riddle who spent two years in Africa, or Esther Mueller who’s in the Ukraine, or Connie DeLeo, who’s in the Dominican Republic. I’m talking about someone who goes overseas to a foreign country and shares the gospel of Christ with people in a different culture.

So for the purposes of this sermon, when I say missionary, that’s what I mean.  And when I say, “Missions,” I mean cross-cultural ministry, usually in a foreign country.

So back to my first statement: I’ve always wanted to be a missionary.

Now what got me started on this journey? There have been three steps on this journey—three stages to my Missionary Dreams.

To begin with, God used people from a foreign country to lead me into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ! Our annual conference has a program called The Scandinavian Caravan. What happens with this program is that every other year they bring college-age young adults from Methodist churches in Scandinavia, and they come here and share their culture and their faith—and then every other year our conference sends a group over there. And the year I graduated from High School, the Scandinavians came here, and there was something about those folks that got my attention—something about their love and their faith and their witness that captured my heart—and God used these folks to lead me into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

And so the next year, I applied to be part of the group from here, North Carolina, that went there, to Scandinavia—and oh, my goodness, it was amazing—to be in a different culture, to learn their customs, to eat their food, to be surrounded by their beautiful language—to stand there and sing How Great Thou Art—except they were singing it in the original Swedish. There’s just nothing like worshiping with people from a different country. And the best part was when I got up to share my witness and I was able to say, “Hey, y’all, when you came to the United States last year, God used you to lead me to Christ!”

So at this point, I was thinking, “Missions is fun. I want to be a missionary ‘cause it’s fun. It’ll be interesting and exciting!”

That was Stage One: “Missions is Fun.”

But then I learned something else.

I went to a student mission conference in Urbana, Illinois—17,000 college students all interested in missions. And we heard amazing speakers—Billy Graham was one of the speakers—and I was confronted with the immense needs of the world—a billion starving people—two billion who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ—and as a young college student, I was moved to the depths of my soul.

What I learned at the missions conference in Urbana was that missions was not just exciting and interesting—it was needed!

And that was Stage Two: Missions is Important.

But then I learned something else.

As I kept following this interest in missions, and studying and learning and going to lectures, I learned that God’s heart for all nations is the theme of the entire Bible!

The story of the Bible is the story of God’s mission to the world!

It starts with God’s call to Abraham in Genesis, chapter 12. This is the beginning of God’s covenant with Israel. And God says to Abraham,

“I will bless you …
and you will be a blessing …
and all nations on earth will be blessed through you.”
--Genesis 12:2-3

And there it is, right there at the beginning of the Bible—“all nations on earth”—that’s missions—that’s concern for the entire world!

And you see this theme repeated throughout the Old Testament. God makes that same promise to Abraham’s son Isaac—“all nations on earth will be blessed through you”—and then to Isaac’s son Jacob—“all nations on earth will be blessed through you.”

And you read the Bible stories and you can see God’s passion to reach all nations. David says to Goliath, “I will defeat you …

“…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.”
                                                --1 Samuel 17:46

And you see Daniel witnessing to the Babylonians, and Jonah witnessing to the Assyrians, and Esther witnessing to the Persians.

You read the Psalms, and you see phrases like, “Declare his glory among the nations;” “Let all the nations sing;” “Let all the nations worship.” And Psalm 67 says,

May God be gracious to us and bless us …
So that your ways may be known on earth,
Your salvation among all nations.”
--Psalm 67:1-2

And you get to the book of Isaiah and God says to his people Israel,

“…I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
--Isaiah 49:6

And then—and then—you get to the Gospel of Matthew and you read the story of Jesus, and the last thing Jesus says—his last command—is,

“…go and make disciples of all nations
--Matthew 28:19

And so what I came to realize is that God’s heart for all nations is the theme of the entire Bible.

And that’s stage three of my journey. I went from “Missions is fun” to “Missions is important” to Missions is the Theme of the Entire Bible.

And when I was in college I went to a missions rally, where this was explained, and at that rally I signed a pledge that said, “Unless God clearly directs otherwise, I will serve as an international missionary.”

Well, as it turned out, God clearly directed otherwise. My first year out of seminary, I was appointed to start a new church in Charlotte. That was definitely a God thing.

By the time I was finished with that appointment, Lorie had developed a grant-writing business, and our children had come along, and I began to fulfill my missionary dreams in other ways. I became really good friends with Pastor Sam Om—some of you remember him—my Cambodian friend who was here last summer.

I worked with Sam to reach out to the Cambodian community here in North Carolina, and I worked with Sam to support his mission work in Cambodia—

And then, Sam took me to Cambodia. And I got to preach and I got to teach, and it was just amazing.

And then my last church had a mission in Nicaragua, so I went down with them, and I got to preach in Spanish. I got to do a baptism, and a mass wedding in Spanish. We had some folks on the team who had medical skills, so we put on a medical clinic, and my job was to pray with people after they saw the doctor.

And one more thing I got to do: I got to eat fried Iguana.

It tastes like chicken.

And then, just a few years ago, I conducted a two-week pastor’s school for United Methodist local pastors in the East African country of Tanzania.  These local pastors have the equivalent of a seventh-grade education.  They have not been to Bible College or Seminary, so missionary Eric Soard invited me to come and do a sort of crash course in Christian Doctrine and Preaching.

Now, here’s where all this is going: I’ve been invited to go back to Tanzania and teach two college-level courses at a new university being started by the United Methodist Church. I have also been invited to go back to Cambodia and teach pastors there.

I believe that this is the contribution I can make to the needs of the world. I’m not a doctor or a nurse; I’m not real good at building things; but I can teach. And after a lot of prayer, I feel that now is the time to follow God’s leading and the dream He instilled in me.

So, this fall, God willing, I’ll be going to Tanzania to teach. That trip will last about three weeks, and I’ll also need to spend a lot of time preparing to teach these two classes.

And then next February, God willing, I’ll be going to Cambodia. And again, the trip will last three weeks, and I’ll need a lot of time beforehand to prepare.

Now, please listen carefully: Because I feel called to do both these trips in one year, I believe that I need to step down from pastoral ministry for the 2018-2019 conference year, which runs from July to June. In the United Methodist Church, we have this thing called Sabbatical Leave. It allows a United Methodist pastor to step down from pastoral ministry for one year without pay to pursue a program of study or travel. I have applied for this relationship with the Annual Conference, and it has been granted, so as of July 1, I will be on Sabbatical and— this is the hard part—this is the part I’m not excited about—I will no longer be your pastor. The bishop will appoint a new Senior Pastor to replace me. We will announce who that is three weeks from today on April 29. Since you are getting a new Senior Pastor, I will not be able to return to Main Street. When I come off my year of Sabbatical, I will be appointed to another church.

I want you to know that this is a difficult choice.  I’m excited about pursuing my Missionary Dreams.  I am not excited about leaving Main Street.  I love this church. You are a great church.  From my first Sunday in July of 2014—four years ago—I have felt a very strong connection to this church.

Now, please listen carefully because I want to try to answer some of the questions that might be rolling around in your mind. The first question you might be asking is, “Why are you leaving? What’s wrong?” And the answer is, there’s nothing wrong. I am not mad at anybody. Nobody has asked me to leave. The bishop is not making me sit out for a year. I truly feel called to pursue these two opportunities to be a missionary, if only for three weeks at a time.

Second question you might be asking: “Claude—if you’re taking two trips that are three weeks each, then why are you stepping aside for an entire year?” Here’s why: It’s not just the three weeks of being away.  It’s also the weeks and weeks of preparing to teach and preparing to travel. And after a lot of prayer, I came to the conclusion that I need to focus on these mission opportunities, and you need a Senior Pastor who is focused on the mission of Main Street. And so, I need to step aside and let a new Senior Pastor be appointed.

Understand also, that in addition to the mission work, I also plan to pursue a program of study in the art of storytelling.  I’m signed up for a week-long workshop with a well-known storyteller named Donald Davis, and I’m planning to attend the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee, and as many other workshops and festivals as I can get involved in. Many of you have complimented my storytelling.  I would like to hone that skill to speak to people of all ages.

Another thing I’ll be doing during this Sabbatical year is spending a lot of time with family. I’ve got a son and his wife and my grandson who live in Asheville, and—get ready for this—a new grandbaby on the way. I’ve got a daughter in Chicago. I’ve got elderly parents who live in Greensboro, but I don’t see them near as much as I want to. So when I’m not preparing to teach, going overseas to teach, or attending a storytelling workshop, I plan to spend extra time with family.

Third question: Where will Lorie and I live? Some years ago we bought a house at Lake Junaluska so we’d have a place to retire. Many of you know that Lake Junaluska is the Methodist Holy Land.  It’s where old Methodist preachers go to die. Well, since we have this house, that’s where we’ll live during this one-year Sabbatical.

Fourth question: Why am I doing this now? Well, the opportunities I’ve been given to go and teach are available now. They might not be available later. After a lot of prayer and soul-searching, I feel called to pursue these opportunities while they are available.

Final question: How much time do I have left at Main Street? Those of you who are familiar with our Methodist system know that our conference year runs from July to June, so I’ll be here through most of the month of June, and then the new pastor will start in July.  So that’s about three months from now.

I’ve always wanted to be a missionary—and you, Main Street, have always been a missions-minded church. So please consider me your latest missionary. When I leave in July, please don’t say, “We’ve lost our pastor.” Instead, say, “We’ve sent out another missionary.”  

I want to close with this quote from a theologian named Emil Brunner:

Mission work does not arise from any arrogance in the Christian Church; mission is its cause and its life. The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith … Mission, Gospel preaching, is the spreading out of the fire which Christ has thrown upon the earth. Those who burn propagate the fire. Those who do not propagate the fire show that they themselves are not burning.
Emil Brunner, The Word and the World