All posts by Dale Miller

Jesus is the greatest gift, and He never stops giving

On October 6th we experienced a marvelous worship service celebrating the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking to build the “new” Nardin Park church.   To express their appreciation for 50 years of ministry, we received over 100 contributions in the amount of $5,256.  In the photo are people who were a part of the Nardin Park congregation at the time of groundbreaking.

The groundbreaking was the start of a new journey for this congregation.  Our thanksgiving for the 50th anniversary is not simply an act of appreciation for brick and mortar, but a deep gratitude for the women and men who were striving to be active disciples of Jesus Christ.

This Jesus has been with me for a lot of years.  He is with me every time I stand in the pulpit and try to share his Word.  He is there as I stand over graves and try to offer understanding and hope.  He is there as I stand before young couples dedicating their lives to one another in marriage, or when they are presenting their child for baptism.

I don’t know what I would have become if Christ had not come into my life.  He is the greatest gift anyone could ever receive, and he never stops giving.  Every gift I have given and every gift I will ever give is just one small way of saying thank you, God, for caring enough to come to me and never leave.

My heart is filled to overflowing when I hear how people experience Christ at Nardin Park, whether it is in the nursery, or the classroom, or the choir room, or a mission event, or a worship service.  I know that healthy churches are in the business of changing lives and making the world a better place.

Recently, I read about a pastor who started a youth group from scratch by going to the local middle school and high school and extending an open invitation to a Sunday night dinner with hot dogs and soft drinks.  The first night, he had 10 kids.  The second night, he gave 20 kids sloppy joes.  On the third Sunday night, some 30 kids enjoyed pizza.

A month later, the pastor received a phone call.  When he answered, a lady said to him, “A number of us have noticed the church is not nearly as clean as it once was.  We have to scrub down our kitchen at least once a week.  We want a rule passed that says that no youth shall come to our church on Sunday evenings whose family is not a member of the church.”

The pastor responded, “Why don’t we try to look at this like Jesus might look at it?”  When he said the name Jesus, she immediately responded, “You leave him out of this!”

In a healthy church, we can never leave the name of Jesus out of anything we do, including our stewardship.  Healthy churches see money as a tool for mission and ministry; unhealthy churches see money as a regrettable burden upon the congregation.

On October 27, we begin our 2013 Stewardship campaign with the theme, “Hearts on Fire.”         I invite us to grow spiritually with our finances.   I invite us to follow the biblical model of tithing (giving 10%).  Susan and I have never regretted holding up the model of tithing as our standard of giving to the church.

I am grateful that so many people express their thanks to God by giving to Nardin Park.          Thank you.

Dale

October “Treats”

Usually October is associated with the last day of the month, a day of “Trick or Treats.”  But here at Nardin Park, this October starts and ends with a number of “Treats” for us!

On Sunday, October 6, we will observe World Communion Sunday and celebrate the 50th anniversary of our groundbreaking at 29887 West Eleven Mile Road.  To celebrate the occasion James McConnell, leader of the Archives and History Ministry Team, will bring us an historical word.  In addition, we are inviting everyone to give a 50th anniversary gift to Nardin Park with a gift of $50 (or another amount with a “5” and a “0”).  The gift is a simple act of gratitude, expressing our appreciation for the gift of Nardin Park within our lives.

On Sunday, October 13 we will begin our new Sunday night worship service – “Connexion” – at 6 pm.  Worship will be held in Mercer Hall.  The dress is casual.  The mood is uplifting.  The message is inspirational.  The atmosphere is open and inviting.  The goal is to connect people with God and with each other.

On Sunday, October 20, three major events will be happening –

  • During the 10 am worship service, the Rev. Jerry DeVine, Program Director of the Detroit Annual Conference, will be our guest preacher as we continue to celebrate our Connectional Ministries.  Following the service, a box lunch will be provided as Jerry will participate in a Q&A time with us.
  • At 2 pm, our Music Series presents the DePue Brothers Band, four violinist brothers (plus two) from Bowling Green, Ohio that features a blend of bluegrass, classical and rock genres.  As described by a National Public Radio Host, “The DePue Brothers – nice guys, great players, and the audience jumped up and cheered.  How much better does it get?”
  • At 5 pm, our Church & Society Ministry Team will be hosting the annual D.R.U.M. (“Dedicated Reconciling United Methodists”) dinner and program.  D.R.U.M. is a reconciling community of the Detroit Annual Conference working for the inclusion of all people.  The dinner is at 5 pm.  Reservations Required. Please contact the church office.  The program is at 6 pm.  The speaker is the Rev. Dr. Bill Ritter, Executive Director of the United Methodist Union.

On Sunday, October 27, we will be receiving and recognizing our newest additions to the Nardin Park faith family.  Our Welcoming Sundays are always something that we anticipate with great enthusiasm.  If you haven’t officially made us your church home, I invite you to do so.  Please contact me at dmiller@nardinpark.org.

In hope and confidence,

Dale

P.S.     Last month I wrote about the financial situation at Nardin Park.  At the end of August, we were some $70,000+ in the red.  At the end of September, we will be closer to $45,000 in the red.  Thank you, Nardin Park!  Hopefully, we can continue in this direction as we make sure that our ministries are fully funded.

P.P.S.     Someone remarked that I talk about money too much.  I can’t help it, you see, because money is a spiritual matter.  Every time we receive the offering we are giving a tangible expression of our faith.  Jesus talked about money more than any other subject.  Because of the life and teachings of Jesus, such an ordinary thing as money takes on a new significance for us – a redemptive significance.  After meeting Jesus, we can’t use money the same way as we did before meeting him!

Praying that we all get excited about being followers of Jesus Christ

As a kid, I always enjoyed the summers, but I especially looked forward to the fall.  Each fall was the beginning of a new school, a new adventure, with a sense of anticipation that fed my imagination.  When I became a pastor, I continued to look forward to the fall, the beginning of a new church school year and the overflowing church calendar filled with all kinds of marvelous opportunities for children, youth and adults.

This year is no exception.  In fact, we have so many exciting ministries and missions happening that it is simply a thrill to be a part of the Nardin Park faith family.  There are signs of vibrant life everywhere, expressions of vital discipleship being lived out, and evidence of God’s love being experienced in so many people.

Unfortunately, there is also an unwanted shadow hovering in our midst that all too often is squeezing the life right out of us.  The cloud is that of our financial stewardship; i.e., “money.”  We don’t have enough of it to support all of our ministries.  We have watched our giving slowly diminish since 2008.  Each year we continue to cut our operating costs, making do with less while trying to do more ministries.  It’s a “no-win” situation, that comes at a time when we really need to be finding even more funding to support our growing children’s and young families’ ministries.

We all know about the national economic disaster of 2008.  We also know about the 100+ deaths in the last seven years that have contributed to the erosion of our financial base.  But what most of us don’t know is that the number of Nardin Park members who do not contribute to the general operation expense continues to rise.  In every church there are always people who do not give, but we now have over 160 family units who do not financially support their church.

These are not “bad” people.  They are people who continue to look to the church when there is a need for ministry in their lives, whether it is for a baptism, a wedding, a funeral, a hospital visit, or even counseling.  They are simply people who no longer get excited about being a vital part of the Nardin Park congregation.  They do not need our judgment; but they do need our encouragement.

We also have thirty-one family units who are currently behind in their giving.  The summer vacation has hit us hard.  But then again, we have twelve family units who are ahead in their giving.  For that we are truly thankful.

What is the solution?  I wish I knew.  Reminding people of their membership vows to “faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness” might work with some people, but I know that others would receive the reminder as a not-so-subtle use of guilt.

So, I pray.  I pray that all of us get excited about being followers of Jesus Christ.  I pray that all of us get enthused about being a vital part of an incredible group of disciples called Nardin Park.  I pray that all of us will put our money where our heart is.  I believe that the “bottom line” is not about money, but about “God.”  I know that all of us want Nardin Park to succeed!

It’s a Great Time to be the Church!

I am soooooo excited!!!  For the past several months we have been talking about an additional worship experience to be offered on Sundays.  Why?  When?  Where?  How?  Who?  For months we certainly had more questions than answers.  But now the new worship experience is finally beginning to take shape.

Why are we thinking of a second worship service?  Quite frankly, there are so many people and so many reasons why Sunday morning doesn’t work for everyone that we simply needed to provide another opportunity for people to worship at a time that works for them.  We also wanted to select a time that would create an opportunity to reach our community.  Therefore, we are pleased to announce that beginning on Sunday, October 13, a new worship experience will be offered on Sundays at 6 pm.

While the service is absolutely available for current Nardin Park people, it is also being designed to reach out to our neighborhoods, inviting people to a casual, vibrant, and energized worship celebration that will be held in Mercer Hall.  This space will provide an environment that is less formal and more conducive to welcoming people who find structured sanctuaries somewhat threatening.

What kind of music will be used?  The answer is anything and everything that will make the good news of Jesus Christ come alive!  God is everywhere and so will we be.  To that end I am so very pleased to announce that we have secured an outstanding musician by the name of Alvin Waddles to help shape our worship music.

Mr. Waddles is currently a Choir Director and Organist/Pianist at both Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield and Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit.  Besides his church work he has also worked in the Detroit and Ann Arbor Public Schools, and he has been the musical director and/or pianist for numerous theatrical productions.  Alvin has delighted Detroit music lovers with performances in a variety of musical events including the Detroit International Jazz Festival, the Detroit Festival of the Arts, the annual Detroit and Chicago productions of “Too Hot to Handel,” and his own Fats Waller Revue.

He has worked with Robert Shaw, Margaret Hillis, Brazeal Dennard, Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker, Placido Domingo, George Shirley, Marcus Belgrave, Jack Jones, Stephanie Mills and Tramaine Hawkins.  And now, he’s working with us!!!

Two weeks ago I had lunch with Alvin.  I simply wanted to tell him my vision for a Sunday night worship experience that would be intentionally multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-generational and that would reach out to our neighborhoods in a new and inviting way.  What I wanted from him was the name of a musician who could help us accomplish our dream.

The more he heard, the more he got excited.  I began to think that he was really going to come up with a good name for us.  I was literally speechless when he offered his name.  When I shared this news with our own Mel Rookus, Mel said that this was definitely a musical coup for Nardin Park!

There is so much more work to do!  There is a whole lot more planning and preparing!  We still have more questions than answers, but we are on our way!  The potential for this new worship experience is phenomenal!  This is so risky, and I am so scared.  But what could happen for the glory of God and for the future of Nardin Park is so incredibly awesome.  It’s a great time to be the church!!!!!

Choices

Historically, Lent is a time of personal examination of who God is in our lives, and who we are in the life of God.  What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ?  The answer lies within each of us.  We all have the freedom to make choices, whether it is a choice of how we practice our faith, or being a spouse, or being a parent, or being a neighbor.  Every day we make choices.

I once heard about a pastor who told this story:  In the cereal section of the grocery store, I saw a couple who had visited our church a time or two.  I greeted them and asked if they had found a church.  They said yes.  They worship now at a new church in what used to be a Borders store.  They said, “We liked your church, but after a while we realized that everybody there seemed to be involved in lots of service ministries.  At our new church we feel free to do what we want, and leave the rest alone.”  That couple made a choice.

Once we choose to follow Jesus, then we have to make another choice.  What community of disciples will we choose to live out our faith?  For most people that means choosing some kind of denominational label; i.e., Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Catholic, or United Methodist.  Which brings up even another question, “Why are you a Methodist?”

This year our Lenten study is entitled, “A Disciple’s Path,” written by Jim Harnish and Justin LaRosa.  Jim is senior pastor of the Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida, a church where Susan and I worship when we are visiting our Florida daughter and family.  The idea for this study came to Jim as he was reading a Time magazine article, “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.”

Number three on the list was “The New Calvinism.”  The article stated, “Calvinism is back…complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination…It offers a rock-steady deity who orchestrates absolutely everything…by a logic we may not understand but don’t have to second-guess.”

As that article was published, Jim was writing a review of the novel, The Shack, for the Tampa Tribune newspaper.  He wrote that the novel was in the flow of the Wesleyan tradition when “Papa,” the African-American woman who represented God in the story, says, “Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies.  Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it…Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace.”

Some people want choices, especially faith choices to be made for them. Other people want to make every choice.  They want to exercise their freedom to choose.  But, how does freedom and responsibility co-exist?  How do we follow Jesus without surrendering some of our freedom?  If the freedom of choice is the brass-ring which we try to attain, then don’t we run the risk of making Jesus follow us?

That’s why Lent is important to us.  We take this season and place within it all of the tensions between who we are and who God is.  Perhaps we can make a choice, a choice to embrace our covenant with God as not the opposite of personal liberty, but as a time-tested method of extending it.

The Fourth of July

     My father, Daryl Miller, is a veteran of World War II.  A few weeks ago we vacationed together in Washington D.C.  On his list of places to visit was the World War II Memorial.  When we first started to plan our trip it was clear that he was not going to be able to do all of the walking required to see all of the sights.  We nervously approached him with the idea of using a wheel chair.  He quickly agreed.  That’s was when we knew that being at the Memorial was really important to him.

     We arrived early in the morning.  We strolled along the Memorial until we came to a little fountain dedicated to the European part of the war.  We made our way to the inscriptions that read “Battle of the Bulge” and “Remagen Bridge,” phrases that were well known to him.   We settled in on the concrete bench seat along the wall.

     While we were sitting there a group of young ladies approached dad.  They were graduating eighth grade students from a Catholic girl’s school in Louisiana.  Their leader was their teacher.  When spoke to dad she said, “Sir, I assume that you are a World War II veteran.  These students would like to meet you.”

     One by one each of these girls approached him, and, in their own way, thanked him for his service.  They also wanted to have a group photo with him.  There he was, an eighty-eight year old disabled veteran, posing with five young girls from Louisiana, receiving the gratitude of a younger generation, looking like a celebrity, which, in my opinion, is entirely correct.

     As we continued around the National Mall we came to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  We looked up a high school classmate of mine, Louie Holznecht.  He was also a classmate of dad’s barber.  We discovered that it was possible to obtain paper and crayon from one of the rangers from the U.S. National Park Service so that we could make a “rubbing” of Louie’s name.  Dad really wanted to take that rubbing to his barber.

     Louie’s name was at the highest part of the wall, third row from the top.  Without hesitation, a ranger grabbed paper, crayon and a ladder, climbed to the top and quickly made the rubbing.  We picked up an informational brochure to go along with the rubbing, and dad was now prepared to present this momento to Louie’s childhood friend.  As he had lost contact with many of his comrades through the years, it was important to dad, that his barber would remain in touch with the cherished memories of a bygone relationship.

     After a few days of arriving home after the trip, I called dad to ask him about his gift to the barber.  He then told me that he didn’t give the rubbing to him.  It seems that when he was driving down the street he saw Louie’s sister setting up for a garage sale.  He pulled the car over, got out, approached her and asked her if she had ever been to the “Wall.”  She responded quickly, “No.”  “Perhaps, then, you would like this,” he said.  And with that he presented her with her brother’s name.  He quietly got back into his car and, with a smile of deep satisfaction, drove away (The barber did get a copy of the original).  My father is an incredible man.

     I don’t like the idea of war.  I don’t think anybody really does.  War does its worst to humanity.  When the value of a human life seems to hit rock bottom, somehow the value for human relationships rises far beyond simple sentimentality.

     I will enjoy this 4th of July.  I will eat a hot dog or two.  I will suffer through the heat of the day, grousing about the higher temperatures that this summer has brought to us.  I will ooh and ahh as I enjoy some fireworks, but I won’t really need them.  All the sparklers that are necessary for me to enjoy this Independence Day has been provided by a WWII veteran who knows there is a spark of decency, respect, and kindness within people.  Thanks, dad.

(The story regarding the WWII Memorial was used in my 2012 Father’s Day sermon.)

Wow!

     In the beginning of 2008 I met with Tim Latimer who is a computer whiz in the architectural field.  We walked into the Nardin Park sanctuary and I began to describe how I envisioned a face lift to a grand, but well-worn, place of worship.  A month or so later Tim delivered a set of computer drawings of what the sanctuary coule look like.  He did a terrific job!

     I took his drawings to the next Board of Trustees meeting and we began to talk about a mini capital campaign to address some major maintenance items (such as roof repair), as well as updating the sanctuary space.  Everything was going as expected until the second half of 2008 showed up with a national economy disaster.  2008 turned out to be a financially “down” year and the capital campaign was shelved.

     Last January the Trustees began talking about replacing the sanctuary carpet.  Out came Tim’s old drawings and the Trustees expanded their conversation to look at a wider picture.  Through their efforts they were able to address the important issues, research the possibilities and negotiate the prices.  Hours upon hours were piled up by Mike Glenn, Barb Baughman and the others.  As a result they developed a plan to replace the carpeting with ceramic tile in the chancel, remove the communion rail, modesty rail and one pew row in the front of the sanctuary, and to lay new carpeting on the main floor and balcony.  All of this will be accomplished for under $35,000.

     The monies needed to fund this endeavor comes from our endowment interest.  People from the past are funding our present renovation that will support our ministries in the future.  Amazing!

     We are now in the middle of the project.  The communion rail and pews have been removed.  The ceramic tile is in place.  The result is visually stunning!  It will be another week before the carpet is replaced but the change is wonderfully dramatic!  The area is brighter, more open and welcoming, flexible for all kinds of presentations, true to the original architectural intent, but marvelously updated.  It is beautiful!

     With the change other supplemental changes become necessary.  The sound is more alive and now we know we need to make modifications to our outdated sound system.  Our cameras need to be updated so that we can create better quality recordings of our worship experiences.  It is exciting to think about all the possibilities that are available to us.  I believe there will be people who will get inspired enough about these projects they will be willing to make them come true with their financial support.

     The place is buzzing with energetic conversations.  People are bubbling with enthusiasm.  This is a fun place to minister, full of joy and grace.  We have an exciting future with God!

One Year Older

     I observed another birthday yesterday.  Our expectant daughter, Kate, and her husband, Kris, visited with us over the weekend.  The rest of the kids called me.  Our son, Walker, and his new bride, Tina, managed to serenade me with a stellar version of “Happy Birthday!”  It was great fun and I’m enjoying my wife’s birthday gift of a Kindle Fire.

     When I was young I looked forward to birthdays, not because of some anticipated gift, but due to the fact that I was getting older.  As a kid I wanted to get older.  Older meant getting taller and, hopefully, more independent.  I wanted the days of the years to move quickly so that at the age of 16 I could get my driver’s license, or at the age of 18 I could register to vote, or at the age of 21 I would no longer be classified as a “minor.”  There was always a sense of great anticipation that something marvelous was about to happen.

     Nowadays, I’m not so sure I want to anticipate the next age marker.  Sure, the Social Security Administration informs me that I can qualify for full benefits at the age of 66, but who eagerly awaits the passing of those years to achieve that dubious status?  I no longer count the days.  All I desire is that each day counts.

     This year I had to renew my driver’s license, complete with a photo ID.  Guess what?  I no longer look 16.  The presidential primary is today and I have never missed a chance to vote.  I am now an official adult, but I still act like a minor once in a while.  I guess some things never change.

     The blessing of the celebration of the anniversary of the day of my birth is two-fold: (1) I receive the privilege of being in contact with loved ones, and (2) I can express my gratitude for the days of my life that enable me to enjoy the people around me.  I am happy with my birth day, but I’m even happier with each day that still offers possibilities.

     So I thank all of the people who have showered their personal congratulations upon me.  Now it’s off to the daily race, but, quite frankly, I’m more into enjoying each step of the journey!

New Year – Old Habits

When I was a kid, somehow I managed to find myself in a strange church on a Sunday morning with my parents.  We were visiting my mother’s hometown of Franklin, Indiana and I was dragged into the church where she had grown up.  It was the first Sunday after New Year’s Day.  Not only did I have sit through a boring worship service, but I was also escorted to a Sunday School classroom filled with kids my own age.  They looked at me; I looked at them.  They didn’t want me there; I didn’t want to be there.  Such is life.

The teacher had a simple lesson plan for the day.  She handed out paper and pencil and asked us to write our resolutions for the New Year.  I looked around the room and knew immediately that I wasn’t going to write anything because I didn’t know these people well enough to tell them of my shortcomings!  After several agonizing minutes the teacher called for our responses individually.  When she got to me, she innocently asked, “What are your resolutions?”  My response went something like, “Well, I didn’t write anything down.  Resolutions are so lame.  If I need to do something differently I’ll just do it.  Writing them down is just a waste of time.”  Nothing like being defensive!

The teacher just leered at me.  Finally, she uttered words that I obviously still remember to this day.  “You are the youngest cynic that I have ever met!”  I wasn’t sure what a cynic was, but I was sure that once I found out I would wear it as a badge of honor.  Perhaps that’s why when people talk about resolutions today my body enters into involuntary spasms.

Little did I know that my early childhood experience would become the logo for Nike footwear.  You’ve seen their swoosh symbol and you’ve heard their motto – “Just do it.”  Wow, maybe they’re cynical, too.  Cynicism aside, I think that all too often we talk about getting something done, rather then actually doing it.  I’m sure there is a lesson in there somewhere to learn.

Anyway, now that we have been around “Robin Hood’s barn” (an old farm saying) a couple of times, I’m confessing to you that I’ve been really bad about blogging on a consistent basis.  Somehow blogging is the always the last thing on my “to do” list.  So, I’ve made a resolution for 2012.  I’m going to blog more.  But I’m not going to talk about it.  (That would be blogging.)  I’m just going to do it.  Swoosh!

Rushing to Rest

     Tomorrow begins our vacation.  Susan and I will once again be heading off to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We join with other members of her family (the Anderson clan) on the beach, sharing a 15 bedroom, 15 bath home.  This year we are especially excited because three of our four children, their spouses, and granddaughter Madison will be able to be with us as well.  Some 35 people will be vacationing together.  It sounds rather chaotic, but over the years has proven quite calm.

     Actually, it’s the preparation for the vacation that is chaotic.  I’m rushing to rest!  I’m sure you experience the same craziness.  There is so much work to be done and so little time, just so that we can have no work and lots of time to relax.  In addition to everything else, the church is graciously installing new carpet in my office while I’m gone.  Unfortunately, that means packing up all my books so the empty bookcases can be moved and new carpeting can be placed underneath them.  After 30 some years of ministry I have a lot of books!  After boxing them I think I came to the conclusion that I have too many books!  Time to weed out the unnecessary!

     Pastoral emergencies seemed to erupt faster than the popcorn at the movies!  One couple informed me they didn’t like what I said in a sermon and they were leaving the church.  Another couple informed me they liked what I said and was going to be joining the church.  Guess what?  It was the same sermon.  Time to take a breath!

     There were two more deaths in the church, one was somewhat expected and the other was not.  I also received a phone call from a man’s son in Texas.  His dad, Lloyd, had been a member of a church that I had served and I also had officiated at the wedding for the son.  Now, his dad was dying and the son wanted to know if I would be available to fly to Dallas to do his service.  Of course, I was willing, but with two services here it was going to make it somewhat difficult.  The family elected to have another clergy do the service and to interview me over the phone about Lloyd.  Time to remember and be thankful for good people!

     The special edition of the Nardin Park newsletter will be coming out soon.  It will be filled with all of the marvelous ministry opportunities for the coming year.  For that edition I also plan out my next year’s sermons and worship events.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s well worth the effort to see the bigger picture of the worship experiences that we provide people.  Time to listen to God’s voice.

     Time to weed out the unnecessary!  Time to take a breath!  Time to remember and be thankful for good people!  Time to listen to God’s voice!  Even in the rushing toward rest God’s spirit is moving and I am grateful for God’s grace in the chaos.  Now it’s time to vacation!

Long Trips and Short Memories

Following a fantastic celebration of Pentecost on June 12, my wife and I packed a borrowed Ford Explorer and headed southward to Florida to take some “things” to our daughter, Sarah.  These “things”, such as her china and her high school yearbooks, had been collecting dust in our basement for several years.  We really didn’t relish the long drive, but we were tired of the unwanted clutter in our basement.  So off we went, with our little dog, Chip, the ever alert min-pin. 

Our first desination was my father’s house in Plainfield, Indiana.  He refinishes furniture for fun and wanted to send a storage chest and a machinist’s chest to Florida with us for our daughter and son-in-law.  The best news was that he was going with us.  As the primary care giver for my invalid mother he was unable to make any trips for almost 20 years.  With her passing he is now able to take on new journeys.  So off we went.

When you look at the trip mileage it’s a long way from Farmington Hills to Tampa, Florida via Indianapolis, Indiana.  With the three of us gabbing away, however, a long trip became a short trip.  We told stories and shared memories.  What one person couldn’t remember, the other two could fill in the blanks.  Short memories became long and cherished memories.  We drove from Indianapolis to the Drury Inn in Marietta, Georgia, with only two stops on the way.  As we entered our adjoining hotel rooms we noticed a huge billboard across from our third floor windows.  The sign read, “Don’t be Scammed. Trust Dale!”  What a laugh!

We arrived at our daughter’s house Tuesday evening and had a wonderful five day visit with Sarah and Frank, and our granddaughters, Madison and Sadie.  The following Monday dad, Chip and I got back in the car for the return trip.  Susan stayed to help with child care because the usual child care provider’s mother was scheduled for surgery.

Now I may seem to be just wandering around with my thoughts and I probably am.  But then again, perhaps it’s sometimes good not to be always rushing to a pre-arranged destination.  Perhaps it is in our occasional wanderings that we can enjoy the journey.  Long trips don’t seem to be as long.  Stress-induced shortened memories lengthen in relationship with others.  We give ourselves permission to relax and to enjoy what’s going on in and with our lives.

You probably already know the feeling.  But if you don’t, feel free to try it.  After all, “Don’t be scammed, trust Dale!”

Constant Change

The weather changes.  Last week we reached 95 degrees!  Today it’s 65 degrees.  As the saying goes, “If you don’t like Michigan weather, just wait, it’ll change!”

We’re about ready to experience the change from school year to summer time.  We live behind the East Middle School in Farmington Hills and we watch the students as they play in the field for their physical education.  With about a week left in their school year they seem to be moving slightly slower than when they first started the school year.

The face of the church changes.  We’ve experienced 14 deaths in the last 14 weeks.  We’ve also experienced 7 baptisms during the same time span.  We’ve lost two of our younger couples with 5 children.  We’ve gained six younger couples with 8 children.  The only constant we seem to experience is that of change. 

Our Men’s Saturday morning Study Group has been discussing Who Stole My Church?, a book by Gordon MacDonald.  It is a fictional account of a New England church struggling with change.  Some of the older members feel threatened when the younger members take a different approach to being the church.  I think that’s the number one issue for the church today.  How do we value our current members and yet remain open to value people who think and act out their faith differently?

MacDonald suggests that a lot of church people do things by habit.  In other words, things are done because they are always done that way.  People choose to do the things they do because they’re comfortable with them.  I know that I enjoy my comfort zone.  If I didn’t, it would be called my comfort zone!

But then again, there is my faith.  Faith has got to be more than about our comfort zones.  Faith has to be more than just about “me,” or even “us.”  Faith is about the grace of God being made available to everyone in as many ways as we possibly can.  Yes, as a church, we continue to find personal spiritual growth, fellowship, joy and the experience of worshipping a God who loves us always, but we also continue to ask ourselves, “So that?” 

In other words, we grow and fellowship and worship so that not only can “we” become closer to God, but that “others” may experience the closeness of God in their lives through us.  The bottom line is that it’s not just about us; it’s about God in us, with us, and through us for others.  When we set our priorities with this in mind, then we can become embrace change as a possibility for us to exercise faithful discipleship.

Easter Glow

It has been a week since Easter morning, but I’m sitting at my desk still basking in a glow fueled by all kinds of resurrection experiences.  For the engineers among us, allow me to say that the numbers of people in worship hovered around the 800 mark, more than 100 over last year.  The generosity of people spilled out everywhere.  While people bought lilies to decorate the sanctuary, even more people donated toward food for the hungry.  Our Easter offering was excellent and from the first of January through the end of April we have collected more money then we have spent.

At the 11 am service we baptized John and Jacob Bolthouse, five week old twins of Darin and Sarah Bolthouse.  It was such a joy to baptize them, but it was mixed with a sense of melancholy as it was the last Sunday for the Bolthouse family to be at Nardin Park.  They moved to Colorado the following week.  The good news is that I could recommend them to the St. Andrews UMC in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, where my friend, Harvey Martz, is senior pastor.  I’ve already notified Harvey they are are on their way.  How wonderful it is to be a part of such a connectional church.  That’s Easter, too.

The worship experiences were simply amazing.  Everything went so well.  After the 9:30 service a young lady approached me and handed me one of our “Invitation Sunday Response Cards.”  She is already a member of the church, but she hadn’t been around for quite a while.  As she handed me the card, she quietly said, “I feel like I need to re-commit myself to Jesus.”  That’s Easter, my friends.  I put my arm around her and told her that we had missed her but that we had never stopped loving her.  She didn’t need to rejoin the church because the church family had never given up on her.  That’s Easter, too.

A week after Easter I receive a letter in the mail.  It came from one of our repeat guests.  It read: “Your Sunday messages and the outstanding music included in Sunday worship have been an inspiration to me whenever I am able to be in the Nardin Park Sanctuary.  I am a frequent visitor there because your sermons and the music seem to “lead” me back.  The Easter morning service was beautiful – the Voluntary, ‘Because He Lives,’ brought tears to my eyes – what dedication and talent bless your congregation.  In appreciation the enclosed is my gift to the Music Department.”  Enclosed was a check for $1,000.  That’s Easter, too.

So I’m basking in the glow of Easter.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of more tombs that need to be opened.  For some reason, people love to roll big stones around, sealing off the goodness and grace of life for themselves and for others.  Fortunately, there is always enough glow from the Resurrection morn to cast the shadows away.  Oh, it may take some doing, but it is possible.  We simply need to be Easter People!

And then there were more

My wife, Susan, and I have been privileged to be the parents of four children – two boys and two girls.  All of them were born between March 21 and April 17.  For us, this means that the Season of Spring is also known as the Birthday Season.  We have watched them grow up, sprout their wings, matriculate from college, pursue their vocational ambitions and discover their soul mates. 

We rejoiced when our youngest son, Sam, announced his engagement to Beth.  They were married on New Year’s Eve of 2005.  And thus began the era of Nuptials.  Our children were married in reverse order of their age.  The youngest first, then the next to the youngest, Sarah, married Frank in 2009.  Then the second oldest, Kate, married Kris in 2010.  And now the eldest child of the Miller household, Walker, has proposed to Tina Garcia on the weekend of his birthday (last weekend to be exact).  They are planning to be wed in January of 2012.  Our hearts are full!

It has been a wonder to watch the chapters of our lives unfold, each chapter encasing elements of comedy, drama, adventure, poignancy, and melancholy.  When we are young the chapters number few but seemingly go on for page after page.  As we age, the chapters multiply quickly but the pages become abbreviated.  And yet there are still many chapters to be revealed. 

Each day is precious.  Every relationship is to be cherished.  There is no time for pettiness and minutiae.  We are to live in the fullness of the moment and as fully as we can as human beings.  For me, such fullness of life comes from my connection with God, with my family, and with my friends.  Everything literally hinges on how we embrace those connections and approach each chapter of living.

Most of the time we never notice the hinges on a door.  We don’t pay attention to them.  They are often small and hidden, yet without them, the door would not function at all.  What we bring to each chapter of life are the little hinges on which the big doors of our lives swing.  The wrong attitude brings wear and tear, finally tearing the door down.

We can’t control life’s negative circumstances – the long lines at the grocery store, aches and pains, or late-night calls from telemarketers.  Those are life’s invariables.  Yet we can control how we relate to them.  It’s a simple choice, a simple step.  The right approach allows us to keep all the mechanisms of our life in perspective, the best working order, so that each chapter can be maximized to the fullest.  One of the hardest things I decide every day is to stay open and gracious to everything and everyone that is hovering around me.  It’s hard, but it is also the most satisfying!

Duct Tape, Dinner and Dreams

On Saturday, March 26, 20 people from Nardin Park attended the annual Cass Community Social Services fund-raising dinner at the Inn of St. John’s in Plymouth, Michigan.  Since we never had attended this event as a church it was fantastic to reserve two tables of ten and then to fill them for a very special evening.  Some of us drove seperately, but some of us also decided to take the church van.  Tom Tobe volunteered to drive us and we all clamored into the vehicle like a bunch of teenagers going on a field trip! 

It was the first time that I had ridden in the van.  I’ve seen the outside of the van and I must admit it looks worse for wear.  There are several rust spots all over the body and it is embarrassing to see the Nardin Park name plastered on the side of our mobile eye sore.  Fortunately, the inside of the van is quite nice and it runs very well.  Although the van is many years old, the total mileage is a little over 70,000.  As we began our drive it was humorous to see that a roll of duct tape was placed next to the doors.  It seems that when the van reaches a certain speed, the passenger doors have to be duct-taped shut so they won’t accidentally open!

Upon our arrival we entered a building that once housed the St. John Catholic Seminary, a beautifully re-designed building that now serves as a hotel, banquet hall and conference site.  We joined with over 300 other attendees.  After checking in we roamed the reception area looking at the objects that were up for bid at the silent auction.  Some of us spotted a coveted item or two.  I wonder if Mike Brekenridge successfully bid on that tool belt.  Susan and I managed to outbid some others for two pieces of art that are now hanging in our home.

The meal was great.  At $100 a plate it was miraculous that we could enjoy an excellent repast and still raise money for Cass.  After the meal we were entertained by “The Ambassadors,” a male singing group consisting entirely of homeless men.  The emcee for the event was Huel Perkins of FOX TV news.  Awards were given out to the “Employee of the Year”, the “Volunteer of the Year” and the “Church of the Year.”  What an incredible delight it was to hear the name of our Judy Blaney called out as the “Volunteer of the Year.”  She goes to Cass every Thursday to help out with data entry.  Her faithfulness and her effectiveness was recognized and we were excited for her.  It was also fun to know that she received this recognition on her birthday!

The Rev. Faith Fowler, Executive Director of CCSS, was the main speaker and can she ever bring a message!  Immediately after she spoke, there was an invitation for additional funds and hands shot up all over the hall, raising even more money for this invaluable ministry.  The excitement and the enthusiasm that was in that room was extraordinary.  To experience all of the ministries that CCSS provides for the city of Detroit is incredible.  And at the end of the day, that’s what it is all about.  Faith Fowler and CCSS have a dream for the disenfranchised and marginalized people of Detroit, and with the help of people like us we are making their dreams evolve into reality.  It was a great night for a great ministry!

Somehow, in my mind I can see us continuing to put duct tape and dinners and dreams together again and again and again, not only for Cass, for all of our ministries at Nardin Park.  There are so many needs.  We can do whatever we feel God is calling us to do.  What a powerful resource we are for the Kingdom of God!