Doing the Next Right Thing

By Bishop Peggy Johnson

I watched the movie “Frozen 2” over the weekend because I ran out of things to do as everything has been closed and canceled. The advice that came up frequently in this Disney film were the words, “When you don’t know what to do, do the next right thing.” 

I like this quote because it is practical and doable. Life is full of times when we don’t know what to do as we face an overwhelming problem or fear-inducing situation. Doing the “right” thing speaks of moral integrity during hardships and suffering. The “next” thing speaks of taking it slow, one step at a time, and seeing the good in every small effort. That step often leads to the knowledge of what to do next. 

This is good advice for us, as we respond to the coronavirus pandemic. We may not know what to do to solve this challenge globally, but we can do the “next right thing” locally.

The “next right thing” in practical terms includes the following:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Sanitize high volume surfaces.
  • Observe protocols about social distancing.
  • Keep informed about state and governmental directives.
  • Get tested if you are feeling sick, and observe a quarantine if you believe you have been exposed to the virus.

The “next right thing” pastorally brings a new window of opportunity like never before. I have been observing our churches responding to this pandemic in many creative and effective ways. It is an exciting time for the church! 

Some are reaching online unchurched people that have not been physically attending church services. People are seeking God at this time. Here are some things that are happening around our connection: 

  • Worship services webcast using livestreaming video, or Zoom videoconferencing or recorded and posted on Facebook, church websites and YouTube.
  • Print versions of sermons e-mailed or posted on church websites.
  • Daily morning devotions livestreamed.
  • Churches providing sign language interpreters in the screen box during live-streamed services, so that Deaf people, who use American Sign Language can see the sermon/devotions.
  • Starting or continuing Bible Studies, prayer meetings and congregational care groups on conference calls and videoconference calls. I even observed one church using YouTube to offer sewing directions for making protective face masks.
  • Drive-thru food pick-ups and drop offs at food banks for distribution.
  • Drive-thru donations and Communion elements.
  • Pastoral Care Window Visits, where a visiting team comes to the home of a person who has been sick and holds signs outside read “Praying for you.”

In these times of uncertainty many are concerned about the potential drop in funding for church support and ministry. Some churches are handling this concern through electronic giving, and some are mailing stamped envelopes to church members to encourage ongoing giving. 

We should be about the business of giving sacrificially and not hoarding. It seems counter-intuitive but giving when you feel vulnerable is the basis of Christian stewardship. 

Generosity proclaims your faith in God like nothing else. Jesus said, “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)\

Give in faith at this time, and trust that God will supply all of your needs. One of our greatest tools for ministry is our concern for the poor during times of need.

Do “the next right thing” each day, and may God continue to direct your paths and use you to bless many people.

Republished from The Bishop’s Blog.

A rock in a weary land

By Bishop Peggy Johnson

The gospel song lyrics “Jesus is a rock in a weary land, a weary land, a weary land. Jesus is a rock in a weary land, a shelter in the time of storm” is singing in my head as I ponder the life of Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, who passed away March 27 at the age of 98 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Like our Lord, Dr. Lowery was a rock.  He was a rock in the weary land of racism and discrimination for decades in this country.  Among his many rock-hard accomplishments was heading up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during a time of deep financial stress. He helped birth and lead that pioneering civil rights organization with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and later led it again, back from the brink.

Abingdon Press photo

Moreover, when The United Methodist Church was formed from merger and racial desegregation in 1968, Dr. Lowery served as a board member of the newly created General Commission on Religion and Race (1968-1972). He played a pivotal role in working with annual conference merger committees to establish new, racially inclusive conferences. I’m told he was a relentless, effective negotiator, tough as a rock perhaps. But for him, I suspect it always amounted to a labor of love—Christ’s love—for this new church and for all its people.

Anti-racism work—the work we are all called to do in Christ’s name—is difficult and unglamorous work. But Dr. Lowery succeeded because of his conviction about the importance of the mission. 

He never wavered on his commitment to racial justice, be it in his church or in his country or worldwide, as he took even stands for those suffering under South Africa’s racist apartheid regime.  He put himself in the path of criticism and harm for years, speaking out against bigotry, discrimination and racism. That is how rocks are!  They are firm, and they stay the course.

Kathy L. Gilbert photo, UM News

As rock-solid were his convictions, Dr. Lowery had a down-to-earth humility that drew people to his message.  Back in 2009, Tindley Temple UMC in Philadelphia hosted the first “Charles Albert Tindley Awards,” and Dr. Lowery was one of the honorees. Though unable to come in person, he received the honor by live-streamed video. 

His gracious, approachable spirit was evident to all.  That is the “secret sauce” for those who are “rocks in a weary land.” As we remember this giant of the civil rights era, may we commit ourselves to that same mixture of strength, endurance, and compassion.

May we be the fulfillment of Dr. Lowery’s benediction at President Obama’s inauguration, so that, in his colorful words, “Black will not be asked to get in the back, brown can stick around, yellow will be mellow, the red man can get ahead, man, and white will embrace what is right.”

Also, be sure to read Bishops mourn Rev. Lowery, beloved pastor and Dean of Civil Rights Movement, Bishop Woodie White’s fond remembrance of his “mentor, confidant and friend.” He particularly emphasizes Rev. Lowery’s first love: being a United Methodist church pastor.

Republished from The Bishop’s Blog.

‘Thursdays in Black’

By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

March is Women’s History Month, and many women have changed the course of history by their excellence in science, social justice, religion, medicine, environmental concerns and just about every field of endeavor. I could name many stellar women, many well-known “she-roes.”

But this year I would like to lift up the countless, unnamed women who have spoken out against sexual and gender-based violence. They can inspire us to continue speaking out for justice and mercy for women around the world.

These unnamed voices of social justice inspired the “Thursdays in Black” campaign of the World Council of Churches.  According to the WCC “it grew out of the Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998), in which stories of rape as a weapon of war, gender injustice, abuse, violence and many tragedies that grow outward from such violence became all the more visible.  But what also became visible was women’s resilience, agency and personal efforts to resist such violations.”

Some of the women who inspired this campaign included:

  • Mothers of the Disappeared” in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who on Thursdays protested at the Plaza de Mayo, against the disappearance of their children during the violent dictatorship of their government;
  • Women in Black” in Israel and Palestine, who protest against war and violence in their land, women in Rwanda and Bosnia who protested against the use of rape as a weapon of war; and
  • Women of South Africa’s “Black Sash” movement who protested against apartheid and violence committed against black people.

These brave sisters all are calling for “resistance and resilience.”  This is a serious global issue according to the WCC.  One in three women today experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner.  Globally, more than eight out of ten girls experience street harassment before they are 17 years old. Women and girls represent 70 percent of exploited human trafficking victims.

Everyone can play a part in drawing attention to these issues and doing something about them.  The campaign calls upon us to:

  • Wear black on Thursdays.
  • Learn more about this movement and share what you learn.
  • Order, wear and share Thursdays in Black pins and other resources to declare you are part of the global movement resisting attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence.
  • Show your respect for women who are resilient in the face of injustice and violence.
  • Protest against systems and societies that encourage violence in any form and work for legislative and social solutions.
  • Become knowledgeable about the challenges of sexual and gender-based violence.
  • Encourage others to join the movement.

The 348-member churches of the World Council of Churches, including a number of inter-religious partners, have adopted this campaign.  All of us can “be ambassadors in our words and actions for respect, security and justice for women, men, girls and boys.”

At our UMC’s 2020 Session of General Conference in Minneapolis there will be a “Thursdays in Black” reminder.  We don’t have to wait until then. Let’s make our churches into places of peace, justice and learning about these issues during Women’s History Month and beyond. Let’s honor those brave women who have resisted cruel exploitation, violence and injustice and who remain resilient in their efforts.

Hymn writer Rev. Carolyn Gillette reminds us in her hymn: “God of Love, We’ve Heard the Teaching”:

By your Spirit may we witness to your peaceful, loving way

May we share your love and justice every moment, every day

May the people hurt by violence know they’re valued by your grace

And may all who are in crisis find a refuge in this place.

Republished from The Bishop’s Blog.

Eye of the Needle: A Case for Unburdening in 2020

By Bishop Peggy Johnson

Jesus said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to gain eternal life.” (Matthew 19:24). Scholars have contemplated the meaning of this for ages. 

Was he talking about a sewing needle, which is a hyperbole?  A camel and a sewing needle are impossibly out of proportion. It is similar to the analogy that Jesus made about removing a speck from our neighbor’s eye with a plank (Matthew 7:3-5). This extreme is used to drive home an important spiritual lesson.

Or maybe there was a different explanation.  The “needle gate” was an actual thing, supposedly in ancient Jerusalem, that was so small that a fully loaded camel could not get through unless the packages on its back were removed. 

In her book How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season, author Susan Beaumont suggests that “congregations must shed what is non-essential (in transitional times). After crossing the threshold, we are pulled forward and upward into a space of new possibility.” (p. 117). 

What is the most essential thing we should be doing in 2020?  Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and deed comes to mind.  Jesus teaches us that we are to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33). 

In this New Year, I suggest that we engage in an inventory of our personal lives and church ministries.  What kinds of baggage needs to come off so that we can move into new possibilities?  

Consider our consumer-driven obsessions that keep us bound to credit card bills and debt. What health issues need to be addressed that are slowing down our effectiveness and well-being? Are we holding on to the “baggage” of bad eating and exercise habits? 

Have we considered our church’s use of funds and its carbon footprint?  Are our church burdened with ways of doing things and decision-making traditions that have become a burden?

How about attitudes? Where are we holding on to attitudes of despair and un-forgiveness that need to be released?  Despite the many troubling things we see in the world today, God is still working wonders. 

The New York Times posted a list of “22 Things That Happened for the First Time in 2019” (Your Weekend Briefing, December 29, 2019)  This year there have been significant discoveries that can cure HIV, a malaria vaccine has been developed and is being tested, and there is progress in solving the dilemma of peanut allergies. In addition NASA celebrated its first all-women’s space walk; and women imams led prayer services for the first time in France.

God continually pours out blessings on us, and we need to be evangelists for the positivity of God’s Spirit working mightily in this world, and not fixate on negativity.  When we take off the baggage of despair and unresolved grudges we become free to enjoy the gifts of God.

Our churches too can take off the useless baggage of looking back on how things used to be. Instead they can look forward to the new opportunities that God is presenting in this day and age.

So, the possibilities are endless as we unburden ourselves of self-imposed weights of sin and attitude. Then we can more freely head straight through the “needle gate” to our God-ordained future in 2020.

Wishing you and yours a New Year full of God’s abundant blessings. 

Republished from The Bishop’s Blog.

Caminemos a la Luz

Por Obispo Peggy A. Johnson

La estación de Adviento está a la puerta y otra vez escuchamos la vieja historia del nacimiento de Jesús predicha por los profetas. Los profetas nos dieron instrucciones de cómo prepararnos para este Emanuel, Dios que viene a estar con nosotros.

Al comenzar esta estación me deleito en las palabras de Isaías quien nos llama “caminemos a la luz del Señor.” (Isaías 2:5) ¿Cómo hacemos esto? Los profetas nos proveyeron un mapa para nuestra jornada de Adviento.

Aprendamos del Señor  

Primero, aprendemos del Señor. Isaías 2:3 nos llama a “Vengan, subamos al monte del Señor, al templo del Dios de Jacob, para que Él nos enseñe sus caminos, y podamos andar en sus senderos.” Estudiando la Palabra de Dios con intencionalidad, porque es lámpara que alumbra nuestra senda. (Salmo 119:105)

Envuélvase en un Estudio Bíblico de Adviento o devocional y separe tiempo durante esta estación para reflexionar qué significa personalmente la venida del Señor. Considere qué Dios quiere que usted haga al respecto. 

Envuélvase en el plan de salvación de Dios para el mundo.

Segundo, considere como su fe es parte del plan maestro de Dios para el mundo. Isaías habla de que todas las naciones vendrán al santo monte del Señor. (Isaías 2:2) Dios quiere alcanzar a toda la humanidad, no solamente a los hijos de Israel. Su plan siempre ha sido la salvación de todo el mundo. Y su alcance inclusivo debe ser nuestro también. 

¿Dónde usted y su iglesia se envuelve en misión? Estoy orgullosa de IMU por sus increíbles ministerios que alcanzan y abrazan vidas alrededor de E.U. y globalmente, incluyendo mas de 300 misioneros y misioneras sirviendo a 60 países, operando 300 hospitales y clínicas MU. También ayudamos a aliviar el sufrimiento humano a través del Comité de Alivio, UMCOR, en lugares donde hay necesidades y desastres naturales. 

Tenemos instituciones educativas alrededor del mundo que para muchas personas es la única fuente formal de educación y desarrollo. Nuestra participación en desarrollo de iglesias y agricultura ha dado luz y vida a millones. Apoyamos estos esfuerzos en general a través de nuestra aportación monetaria a la conexión. También apoyamos proyectos específicos, misionales, y preocupaciones a través de dar a “Advance”. 

Pero ¿Qué del alcance en su iglesia local? Al caminar en la luz, ¿Quién se queda en la sombra? ¿Está la diversidad de su comunidad reflejada en su congregación? ¿Están las personas que hablan otro lenguaje y otras culturas, y personas con discapacidades experimentando su hospitalidad y bienvenida? ¿Están viendo a todas las personas como resonancia a la pregunta de Ministerios Discipulares de la IMU?

No se enfoquen en personas que vienen a su iglesia. Vayan a la comunidad y sean un buen catalítico en las escuelas, negocios, en foros públicos, facilidades de salud, y en otros escenarios. Podemos caminar en la luz y ver los rostros de Cristo en aquellas personas que tienen necesidad cuando ministramos entre ellas en amor. Entonces descubriremos el verdadero significado de la Navidad. 

Practiquemos el Plan de Paz de Dios

Finalmente, ¡practica el plan de paz de Dios! Isaías proclama que “El Señor juzgará entre las naciones y decidirá los pleitos de pueblos numerosos. Ellos convertirán sus espadas en arados y sus lanzas en hoces. Ningún pueblo volverá a tomar las armas contra otro ni a recibir instrucción para la guerra.” (Isaías 2:4)

Todos estamos de acuerdo en que el fin de la guerra y la lucha en el mundo seria algo maravilloso. Existe un numero catastrófico de muertes y destrucción en este planeta debido a la violencia. En el plan de paz de Dios es Dios quien resuelve toda contienda y no las personas con sus armas, sus herramientas letales de terror.

Las herramientas de paz de Dios son perdón y reconciliación. Cuando humildemente nos sometemos al plan de Dios, ¡la paz cambia! Comienza en nuestro interior. No culpamos a la guerra alrededor del mundo y no guardamos resentimiento ni enfado hacia las personas en nuestra vida.

La paz en el mundo comienza con nosotros. ¿Con quien necesitas reconciliarte? Esto conlleva arduo trabajo y la voluntad de tomar la responsabilidad de hacer las enmiendas necesarias, aun cuando no tenemos la culpa. 

Finalmente, la paz viene a través de la justicia, los profetas del Antiguo Testamento nos amonestaron al gritar por justicia en cada página. Cuando los derechos humanos están disponibles para todas las personas, “Entonces el lobo y el cordero vivirán en paz, el tigre y el cabrito descansarán juntos, … En todo mi monte santo no habrá quien haga ningún daño.” (Isaías 11:6) En términos humanos, estamos llamados para advocar por los derechos humanos y la dignidad de todas las personas. 

Persigamos Valientemente la Justicia 

Recientemente vi la película “Harriet”, la historia verídica de Harriet Tubman, quien escapó de la esclavitud, y se convirtió en abolicionista y heroína de la Guerra Civil. Ella liberó a cientos de esclavos por su increíble valentía y pasión por la justica humana.

Me enfurecí con la actitud del cruel dueño de esclavos blanco en la película. Y admire las personas blancas, que con consciencia social se unieron a en la batalla de la abolición. Ellas caminaros en la luz; pero su senda no fue fácil.

Ellos estaban violando la ley al ayudar a los esclavos a escapar. Estaban poniendo sus vidas y la de sus familias en riesgo. Algunos fueron asesinados, otros perdieron todo.  Mientras tanto, algunas iglesias que estaban mal guiadas predicaban que la esclavitud era voluntad de Dios, cuando citaban inciertamente las escrituras en el Nuevo Testamento. (Efesios 6:5, Colosenses 3:22, Tito 2:9, 1 Pedro 2:18)

Me pregunte: ¿Hubiera yo arriesgado mi vida y seguridad por los derechos humanos de los esclavos en aquel entonces? Quisiera pensar que sí, pero honestamente tendría que revisar mi corazón.

Aun hoy, es un negocio riesgoso el hablar por los oprimidos, sean ellos los inmigrantes indocumentados y refugiados, las personas que son victimas de traficantes y esclavos para sexo o trabajo en nuestras comunidades, personas que no pueden obtener seguros de salud, o las personas homosexuales en Pensilvania a quienes se les niegan sus derechos humanos en su totalidad.     

La justicia es un negocio riesgoso. La paz llega a un alto precio. Reflexionemos y busquemos lo que Dios quiere que hagamos personalmente en el área de ser pacificadores.  

Durante esta estación de Adviento, sean bendecidos y también sean de bendición. Caminen en la luz de Cristo y compartan la luz con otros. Solamente así experimentaremos el verdadero significado de la Navidad con todo el gozo, paz, amor y esperanza.