Posts Tagged ‘Mike Coyner’

“The Greatest Love” – February 14, 2012

Mike Coyner and family

Mike & Marcia Coyner and their grandchildren

As I write these words it is Valentine’s Day, and it is also the days after we all heard the shocking news of the death of Whitney Houston. The juxtaposition of those two events is really hard to overlook. Whitney Houston sang a beautiful song about “The Greatest Love” as our ability to learn to love ourselves. Valentine’s Day is a beautiful holiday about loving those who love us. Both events miss the point of the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus taught (in his Sermon on the Mount) that if we simply love those who loves us, there is no big credit in that. Everyone loves those who love them, even the most evil and devious persons somehow learn to love those who love them. Jesus said that his followers must exceed that limited understanding of love. He taught us to love God first, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Whitney’s sad life is a witness to how hard it is to love ourselves. Her beautiful voice and life devolved into a familiar pattern of self-destruction which has plagued so many other celebrities. It is almost haunting to hear the recordings of her singing about “The Greatest Love.”

How do we achieve that kind of appropriate self-love? I believe Jesus shows us the way. Learning to love ourselves appropriately comes only as we first discover the depth of God’s love for us. Once we know we are loved, that we are lovable, then we can be so filled with God’s love that we are able to love ourselves, our neighbors, and God.

So, it is good to tell those who love us that we also love them. Too many people go through life without ever hearing from their loved ones that they are loved.

But let us not stop there. Let us learn to receive the wonderful and complete love of God who enables us to love ourselves appropriately and to love one another generously.

The love of God is truly the greatest love of all.

“Blue Christmas”

Blue Christmas

Blue Christmas

While I was serving as bishop in the Dakotas Conference, I found many small towns where the local funeral home teamed up with the local United Methodist Church (or sometimes with several churches) to offer a “Blue Christmas” service on December 20th  which is the longest night of the year.  They often called this a “Blue Christmas” and even played the Elvis Presley song (“It will be a blue Christmas without you”), and the gathering was for families who had lost a loved one in the past year.  The idea was simple but very caring:  those in grief need a time to name that grief (and the longest, darkest night the year seemed appropriate) in order to them to heal and be ready to celebrate Christmas.

Having lost several loved ones in the past three years, I know how hard it is to have that first Christmas without a loved one.  So those “Blue Christmas” services were a wonderful way to help persons in grief to deal with their grief – and then to start moving on with life.

If you are someone who has lost a loved one this past year, please know that God’s healing love is for you.  Christ came especially for those who are poor, poor in spirit, heart-broken, and in need of healing.

If you know someone who has lost a love one this past year, maybe now is the time to call them or drop by and see them, to say, “I remember your loved  one, too, and I know that this Christmas may be tough for you.  But you are not alone – you are in my thoughts and prayers.”

If your local church has never considered offering a “Blue Christmas” or a “Longest Night Service” for persons in grief, maybe it is not too late to offer it this year.

And most of all, every one of us can pause and give thanks for the loved ones in our lives – those who have passed on, and those who are still with us – and to ask God’s blessings on our loved ones.

Mike Coyner

Bishop Michael Coyner

Christmas is not all fun and games.  Sometimes it is a sad time for those who are grieving.  Sometimes it is a lonely time for those who are left behind.  And always it is a time to offer love and peace to our loved ones.

Have a blessed Christmas – even if it is a Blue Christmas for you this year.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner

Mike Coyner

Bishop Michael Coyner

Yesterday the odometer on my car rolled over to 200,000 miles. Well, actually it is a digital display so it did not literally “roll over” – but you get the point. It reminded me of a previous car I owned with the older odometers which literally rolled over, and at 100,000 miles it went back to showing 0. Knowing that I was near that 100,000 mark, I took my family for a ride in the car to “show them our new car.” They seemed confused because we had not been talking about getting a new car, and they were underwhelmed when the odometer rolled over to 0 and I declared, “Look we now have a new car!”

I share these stories because I want to make the point that our faith journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Faith is a life-long, one-step-at-a-time experience. Too many people start strong but fail to finish their faith journey. Others start slowly and build their faith over a lifetime. What makes the difference? Partly it is a matter of perspective. When we make too much out of any one experience – good or bad – we tend to extrapolate and think that experience is more important than it really is.

For example, when we fail or have missteps in our faith, we can tend to make into too big a deal, forgetting that God’s grace can overwhelm all of our sins and failures. Or, when we have a success in our faith, we can also tend to make that into too big a deal and start thinking too highly of ourselves.

We need the perspective of the long journey. We need to try to look at our lives from God’s perspective and to see that our ups and downs are not really that crucial.

That’s where the Bible comes in. As we read the long history of God and God’s people, we see the slow movement of God at work in human history. We see the many ups and downs, curves and detours along the way. We see how God worked through the lives of people just like us – people who sometimes failed, sometimes followed in faith, but always tried to walk in faith. We see God’s infinite patience. And we remember that faith is not a sprint, but a marathon.

We may not reach 200,000 miles, but hopefully we will be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I have run the race, I have finished my course in faith” (II Timothy 4:7).

Mike Coyner

Bishop Michael Coyner

I love the story in the second chapter of the Gospel of Mark where the four friends carry their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing.  There is such a crowd around Jesus that these friends must carry their friend up onto the rooftop (most houses in Bible times had an outdoor stairway), push aside the palm branches over the opening in the roof which allow air movement, and lower their friend to Jesus.

It says then, “When Jesus saw their faith” he then forgave and healed the man.  Jesus saw their faith, the faith of the friends, and that inspired him to forgive and to heal.

Have you ever been carried in faith by your friends?  Have you had times in your life when you were not sure what or how to pray, but friends prayed for you?  Have you ever been discouraged, and friends lifted you up?  Have you ever been without hope, but friends gave you hope?  Have you ever stayed away from God and the church and faith, but friends brought you to a new opportunity to be with God?

Have you ever been carried in faith by your friends?

Or, have you ever been a friend who carried someone else in faith?  Have you ever thought about a friend, had their name come to you in prayer or in quiet moments, and then you acted on that impulse and reached out to them?  Have you ever gathered up support to help a friend through a tough time?  Have you ever prayed for a friend, even when you weren’t sure your friend was much of a believer?

Have you ever carried a friend in faith?

This story in Mark 2 teaches us, teaches me, that we are called to carry one another in faith.

Maybe that is the best reason for “church” and for “congregations.”  Maybe we all need a circle of caring friends who will carry each other in faith.  Sometimes I am the one who needs to be carried in faith, and sometimes I am one of those who carries another.  Maybe church at its best is the place where we carry one another in faith.

This faith journey is not meant to be a solo trip.  We need one another. We need faith friends.  We need a congregation of those who will carry each other.  We need to know that we are not alone.  God is with us through the living Spirit of Jesus Christ, but so are our friends.  And I am called to be such a faith friend to others.

If you have never needed to be carried in faith by others, then God bless you for your strength and good fortune. But your day will come when you need others to give you a strength beyond yourself.  If you have never carried someone else in faith, then shame on you – look around for a friend in need and offer your support and your prayers.

This Christian thing is not a solo thing. We are meant to carry each other in faith.

 

Mike Coyner

Bishop Michael Coyner

My first grandchild was born in August and so now he is nearly 9 months old. I am finding that being a grandparent is indeed fun and exciting, but it also prompts me to wonder what kind of world my grandson will have in his grown-up years. As I hold my grandson, I find myself asking questions like these:

+ What will the church be like when Austin is a teenager or young adult?
+ Will the United Methodist Church be a vital and alive place for him to find faith?
+ Will all of those expensive church buildings still be in use, or will vital congregations divest themselves of real estate in order to do more ministry?
+ Will the clergy of those churches in 20 years be persons who work full-time for the church, or will most of them need to be “tentmakers” who work another job and do ministry as a part-time work or as a volunteer?
+ Will Christians in 20 years be a minority, or even a persecuted minority in American society?

I wonder about those questions, but I wonder even more about Austin and how he will find faith.

All of the statistics say that fewer and fewer persons in each successive generation are finding faith. The “Veterans” generation of people like my elderly father were churched at a rate of nearly 70%. For “Baby Boomers” of my generation that percentage dropped to 50%.  For the “Next Generation” (I prefer that term to Generation X), it dropped to below 30%. And our early data on the “Millennials” is that only about 15-20% are finding faith.

Why? Maybe we in the church have been too busy playing church and not spending our time sharing the Good News. Maybe the numbers for the older generations were inflated with people who were just church members and not faithful Christians. Maybe we are fighting powerful forces in our culture which work against the Christian faith.

I don’t know all the answers. I only know that when I look at Austin and feel the love of a grandparent, I also yearn for him to find faith.  It is most likely that will happen if he is raised in a Christian home, if he has parents and grandparents who are role models of faith, and if he has involvement in a church which is vital, relative, and passionate about the faith.

Will Austin find faith? I pray that the answer is YES! and I will do all that I can to help that happen. I also pray for all of the other little children of our world, and I will do all that I can to help them find faith, too.

 

Easter Us, O Lord

Two years ago I visited a local church in the Indiana Conference where I heard the pastor offer a beautiful prayer including the phrase “Easter Us, O Lord.” I commented to several people about how much that phrase could mean to us as we go through difficult times in our lives and in our churches.

Little did I know then that the past two years would include so many changes and difficulties in our own family, including the death of both of my wife’s parents and my own mother. Little did I know that I would have several friends and colleagues who are battling cancer and other diseases right now, or that I would lose so many friends and colleagues these past two years. Little did I know then how much that prayer, “Easter us, O Lord” would continue to mean to me.

So again this year, I find myself praying those words expressed so beautifully in that pastoral prayer: “Easter us, O Lord.” As we continue moving through his Holy Week toward a celebration on Easter Sunday of the victory and new life which is ours in Jesus Christ, and especially as we remember loved ones who are celebrating Easter in a more glorious way, I use those words and offer this prayer:

Easter us, O Lord.

In the midst of turmoil, death, illness, recession, strife, warfare, political dissention, and personal anguish, Easter us O Lord.

Fill us with a new experience of the risen presence of Jesus Christ.

Let us come to the empty tomb and hear the words, “He is not here, he is risen.”

Let us discover afresh the surprising presence of Jesus who comes to us behind closed doors and barricaded hearts and says, “Peace with be you.”

Easter us, O Lord.

Even when we go about our usual schedules and busy lives, like the fishermen of old, let us encounter Christ who invites us to “Try again, fish from the other side of the boat,” and let us not fear change.

When we gather around our own breakfast or lunch tables, let us hear the question of Jesus, “Do you love me?” and let us also hear the admonition, “Then feed my sheep.”

And as we walk along with one another may we discover that the stranger in our midst is none other than the Christ who journeys with us.

Easter us, O Lord.

By the power of your ever-present Holy Spirit, give us and our loved ones the healing, comfort, assurance, and peace that we all need.

Bless all of our pastors as they proclaim the Good News this Easter Sunday.

Be with all our congregations as they sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and let that song become a reality in their hearts and lives.
Empower our ministry and our witness so that Easter becomes more than a holiday or holy day.

And bless us with a new and fresh discovery of your promise, “Behold, I am with you always.”

Easter us, O Lord. Amen.

 

The Romans knew what they were doing – they crucified thieves, murderers, revolutionaries, anyone who opposed them – right outside the city gate, alongside the road to town. They wanted everyone coming and going into the city of Jerusalem to be confronted by the harsh reality of crucifixion.
They wanted the Cross to be unavoidable.

And so it is. The Cross is not just central to our Christian faith – it is unavoidable. It was for Jesus, it was for his followers, and it is for us.

And yet … how much do we avoid the Cross, avoid the concept of sacrifice, and avoid the challenge of discipline?

I was serving a church in northern Indiana a few years ago where we always displayed a rough-hewn wooden cross right up front, on the chancel during Lent. Maybe your churches do that, too, perhaps draping it with purple during Lent, and then white on Easter, or something like that. One year when we put up that cross, a woman – a very faithful, long-term Christian in our church – said to me, “I don’t like that cross, it looks too realistic.”

That’s it, isn’t it? Too realistic. Too harsh. Too much of a reminder of the price paid, the sacrifice, the pain, the blood, the death. We like to skip over that, we like to, as my preaching professor Carlisle Marney used to say,
“We like to bootleg Easter in ahead of Good Friday.”

And yet the cross is unavoidable, even if it is hard to explain and maybe even an embarrassment. The Cross is unavoidable.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 1:18-25) he had to deal with the Cross and the obstacle it presented. To Jews, it was a huge problem to think of the Messiah being executed on a Cross. To Greeks and their philosophers it was nonsense. But, as Paul says, to those who believe, it is POWER and SALVATION.

So as we continue this season of Lent let me ask you some uncomfortable questions:

  1. Do you have a cross in the place where you worship? If not, why not? What part of the Christian truth are you trying to avoid?
  2. Does your preaching (or your pastor’s preaching) ever include words like “sacrifice” or “salvation” or “redemption”? If not, why not? What part of our Christian faith are you and/or your congregation trying to avoid?
  3. If you’re a pastor, does your own understanding of your ministry include the concepts of “obedience” and “sacrifice” and “calling” – or is your understanding based upon terms like “career” and “success” and “higher salaries“?
  4. What if you’re not a pastor – does your understanding of your life and ministry as a Christian include the concepts of “obedience” and “sacrifice” and “servanthood” – or is it based on things like “convenience” and “status”?
  5. Do you invite others to become a part of a life-style of sacrifice and giving and service – or do you avoid all of that and try to do what one pastor told me was the secret to his ministry: “just keep the customers happy”?

 

I ask these questions of you and of myself, because I believe the Cross is unavoidable, and if we try to avoid the Cross then we miss the power of the Gospel.

Let me say that again:  I believe the Cross is unavoidable, and if we try to avoid the Cross then we miss the power of the Gospel.

 

Protesters in Indianapolis

A controversial bill regarding immigration (IN590) is currently before the Indiana State legislature. Recently a group protested against this legislation. About a month ahead of that protest – on February 18 – Michael Coyner, bishop of the Indiana area of the United Methodist Church spoke out against this bill. An important public witness. Here are his remarks.

 

The legislature of the state of Indiana is considering the complicated issue of immigration. Certainly it is understandable that many citizens and many State Senators and Representatives are concerned about this important issue. However, our Christian faith brings a perspective to this issue, which needs to be voiced, and our United Methodist Church has a particular stance on this issue which I share as the Bishop of the Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church.

 

Among the proposed bills before the Senate and House is one which seems to be gathering some support, namely Senate Bill No. 590. I have read through this proposed legislation, and while I am not an attorney and may not fully understand all of the legal implications of this bill, I do believe that it would be a mistake for the Senate and/or House to pass this Bill and for the Governor to sign it, for these reasons:

 

First, this bill begins to move the state of Indiana into areas which rightly belong to the federal government, namely the attempt to regulate immigration. Certainly there is frustration over the failure of our federal government to fulfill its duty in this area, but having each of our 50 states adopt their own immigration policies would be chaos and a violation of our U.S. Constitution.

 

Second, this bill would place our police officers and our business owners in an impossible situation of trying to determine when and if they should demand proof of citizenship or legal residency. It is clear from the experience in other states which have attempted similar provisions that the police are almost forced into racial profiling to meet the requirements of such a provision. Likewise business owners are faced with new liabilities and costs as they seek to monitor their customers according to the requirements of such legislation.

 

Third, this bill would only add to the climate of fear and suspicion which permeates too much of our culture already.

 

Mike Coyner

Bishop Michael Coyner

I believe that Senate Bill No. 590 is contrary to the Social Principles of our United Methodist Church, and therefore I urge all of our United Methodist people to express to their State Senators and Representatives their opposition to this bill. We must find a better way to enforce the laws, which already exist around the immigration debate, and we also must find a better way to protect against racial profiling.

 

Bishop Michael J. Coyner, Indiana Area

So what’s your next step? Will you make a public witness as Bishop Coyner has urged?