Author Archives: Bishop Michael Coyner

Mike Coyner ~ Leaving a Legacy

I Chronicles 22 tells how King David began stockpiling materials for the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. David had been told by God that he would not be the one who would build a temple for the Lord, because of David’s many sins and many killings in war. Rather than pout about that fact, David put his energy into stockpiling materials in hopes that his son Solomon could build the beautiful Temple which was indeed accomplished under Solomon’s reign.

David understood the important of leaving a legacy. He understood that each generation should stockpile resources for the next generation. He accepted that his own failures and inadequacies would prevent him from accomplishing everything he wanted to do during his own lifetime, but he used that fact as a motivation for the future success of those who would come after him.

Perhaps ministry today in the church is not just about the NOW but is also about the NEXT. Perhaps church leaders should always be stockpiling resources (financial resources, new leadership development, strong traditions) in order to help the next generation to fulfill its own ministry.

I am finding that more and more churches and pastors are wanting to develop “succession plans” for their future. Veteran pastors want to see their churches thrive beyond their own retirement, so they are thinking ahead about how best to provide their churches with the next leaders.

I applaud such thinking, but I know it takes a great deal of humility and maturity to admit that our current leadership may not accomplish everything. Accepting our own limitations, including the limitation of time, can lead us to do what King David did – to stockpile resources for the future and to leave a legacy of faithfulness.

May it be so in all of our lives and ministries.


Used with permission ~ Next Step Evangelism

Bishop Michael Coyner ~ Casino At The Cross


Such a contrast…

As the Son of God, God’s chosen One, the Anointed, the Messiah was making the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life for the whole world, at that very moment, the Roman soldiers were rolling the dice and gambling for his clothes – having their own little “Casino at the Cross.” Such a contrast!

More than the soldiers’ indifference in the face of such suffering (after all, for them this was just another crucifixion, just another Jewish religious nut), more than their greed in the midst of such sacrifice, there is a contrast between two ways of looking at life: the casino and the cross.

The one way of looking at life says, “Life is just a roll of the dice…Sometimes you get lucky…Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.” There is no meaning to it all – life is just chance – fate – a role of the dice.

Life is just an accident. No meaning. No purpose. No design. Just chance. That attitude leads to gambling, but it also leads to despair, hopelessness, and greed. It’s like the bumper stickers I have seen on the road. On a big SUV, it said, “The one who collects the most toys before he dies, wins.”

That’s the way of the casino – life is meaningless; life is just chance; life is just a roll of the dice. Life has no design, no purpose, no direction. So…just grab all the gusto you can, accumulate all the toys you can get, roll the dice and try to get lucky.

That’s the way of the casino.

The other way of looking at life is the way of the cross. Jesus gave his life on the cross because he believed it was part of a divine plan, a divine purpose. The cross represents a way of looking at life that sees purpose, meaning, design and direction. Life is not just an accident, life is guided by God’s Spirit and God’s design.

More than that, the way of the cross is the way of giving not gambling. It is the way of offering not taking. It is the way of loving not accumulating. The way of the cross, the way of Jesus, is a way of living that believes in giving, and sharing, and loving, and caring.

Such a contrast.

The way of the casino leads people to try to beat the odds, to be a winner by making everyone else a loser. The way of the cross leads people to sacrifice, to serve, to be willing to “lose” so that everyone can “win.”

We can see this contrast all around us in our culture today.

The way of the casino is evident in the gambling industry, even in the stock market, and even in the state government. I’ve served in the Dakotas and in Indiana, and all three states are addicted to the money received from the gaming and gambling industry. The citizens of these three states are also addicted to having their taxes reduced by a government that doesn’t simply regulate gambling, it has to advocate and promote gambling so that more people will gamble, so the state will get more money!

Gambling isn’t wrong simply because it’s immoral, it’s also wrong because it is unfair – those who can least afford to be taxed are paying extra “taxes” by gambling, which the gaming industry gladly collects for the state at a 50% cost. And gambling is wrong because it teaches people a view of life that is filled with despair, hopelessness, and greed.

It is the way of the casino. It is the way of the Roman soldiers at the cross. They missed the whole meaning of the cross, and most of our culture is missing it today, too.

But we are gathered here today because we are the people of the cross, we are the people who want to follow Jesus and his way of living. We are here because we believe that life is not about taking, life is about giving. We are here because we believe that life has meaning, purpose, design, direction. We are the people who value sacrifice and service and self-giving.

We are the people who believe that the ultimate victory in life is not winning the roll of the dice. No, the ultimate victory in life comes from the cross, not the casino.

And so we gather here on Good Friday to remember One whose life was dedicated to the divine plan, to the divine purpose. We gather to remember One who willingly gave his life for others. We gather to remember One whose life demonstrates self-giving. We gather here to remember One whose life was so attuned to the plans and purposes of God that he willingly followed that plan and purpose… all the way to the cross.

We also come here hoping to fine such a plan and purpose in our lives, hoping to catch something of the self-giving attitude of Jesus, hoping to live our lives with some of his dedication and service.

I want to believe that my life has meaning and purpose – don’t you?

I want to believe that God has a plan for me; that I am here, in this place, following God’s leadership and guidance.

I have choices to make about that – and I don’t always follow God’s plan completely. But I know that God has a design, and a purpose for my life.

The soldiers missed it – they cast lots, gambled, and tried to be “winners.” But they missed it…

They missed the real victory that was happening, not at the casino, but on the cross.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.

Bishop Michael Coyner ~ But If Not…

This sermon was preached at the 2012 Ordination Service of the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver usfrom Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”                                                                          Daniel 3:13-18

The past few months I have been haunted by three names and three words. By “haunted” I mean that I have dreamed about them, I have found myself daydreaming about them, and I have even reflected on these during my driving time to the point that I suddenly realize I am many miles down the road without knowing it!

Three names and three words.

When I shared with our worship team for this Annual Conference about my being “haunted” by these three names and three words, the chairperson replied, “Maybe God is trying to give you a message. And maybe it is a message for us.”

I believe she is right, and my message is primarily for those being commissioned and ordained today, but all of you can listen.

The three names are:  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three young leaders who were a part of the Jews who had been taken into captivity into Babylonia. They were brought before King Nebuchadnezzar and accused of not worshiping and bowing down to the false idols and statues of that king.

They did not “spin” or evade or compromise – they simply said, “No, we won’t do that.”

When threatened with being burned alive in a furnace (the typical form of execution in Babylonia) and even taunted, “Which god will save you from that?” – these three young leaders responded with great faith, “It may be that God will save us from your furnace, but if not, we still will not serve the false gods you have set up.”

If you know this story from the Book of Daniel, you know that it has a happy ending – the three young men survive the fire, and in fact the observers see a “fourth man” with them in the fire – a “fourth man” that many have associated with Christ or at least with God’s Holy Spirit.

In some ways the happy ending is not necessary. The real power of this story is in their words, “But if not.”

Three young leaders … and those three haunting words, “But if not.”

That is the message I have to share with you.

In November of 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a famous sermon entitled “But If Not” – based upon this same story from Daniel. It was just a few months before King was assassinated in 1968, and his sermon can be found online in audio version.

It is a powerful sermon. It is a sermon about the Civil Rights movement and King’s belief that ultimately that movement would succeed. But it is a call to his followers to keep on being faithful even when they were not seeing as much progress in the movement as they had hoped. It is a sermon in which King hints that he may not live to see the conclusion of the Movement, but he pledges to be faithful no matter what.

Martin Luther King, Jr. points out in his sermon that a lot of people live an “If” faith:

– If things goes well, then I will have faith

– If God performs as I want, then I will praise God

– If my faith is rewarded, then I will continue on with faith.

He contrasts that “If” faith with the “But if not” faith of these three young leaders, who say that even if things don’t turn out well, they will still hold onto their faith.

That is the real message of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

So, let me ask all of you today – new clergy and old clergy, laity, family, visitors, friends – do you have an “If” faith, or do you have a “But if not” kind of faith?

One of the real blessings of my ministry is that I have known many people who share this kind of “But if not” faith:

Ruth Ann was a member of the first little church I served here in Indiana. She was on kidney dialysis and waiting/hoping for a kidney transplant. It finally came, and I remember receiving a phone call from her husband Bob who shared with me the good news, “Ruth Ann just peed!” Sometimes the most simple and basic things are a joy to celebrate. But the real power of Ruth Ann’s story is that often she said to me, “Whether I get a new kidney or not, having this disease has brought me closer to God.”

Todd was a 13-year-old boy in one of my congregations who battled a rare form of cancer. Even after a bone marrow transplant, he did not survive that battle. But in the midst of the battle, as I visited him through the “bubble” of his protective environment in the hospital, Todd showed an amazing amount of faith and insight. One day Todd said to me, “Even if I die, there will be one good thing that happens. Every parent who hears about me will hug their children a little tighter and tell them how much they are loved.” Todd was right, during and after his funeral I heard so many parents – me, too – who hugged their children tighter and told them how much they are loved.

So here is my prayer and my hope for your newly-commissioned and newly-ordained clergy today:

I hope that every church you serve and every ministry you lead is filled with people who are responsive to your ministry and faithful to God … but if not, I hope you will still be faithful in your ministry. 

I hope that every sermon you preach is well-prepared and well-received by people who are eager to listen and to respond to the Word of God … but if not, I hope you will still be faithful in your ministry.

I hope that when you offer pastoral care to people, sometimes over many months, and when you have given and given of yourself to those persons, I hope that their families appreciate you and value your ministry. I even hope that they don’t insist on inviting some other former pastor to come back to do the funeral when you are the one who has provided all the pastoral care in recent months … but if not, I hope you will still be faithful in your ministry.

I hope that the people you serve respect and appreciate your families, encourage you to take a day off each week, appreciate your need for vacation, and value your own personal growth through continuing education and spiritual renewal times … but if not, I hope you will still be faithful in your ministry.

I hope that every one of your Vital Signs meet and exceed the goals you have set for your church, and that your congregations see those goals as opportunities to grow and expand ministry, to reach new people for Christ … but if not, I hope you will still be faithful in your ministry.

I hope that every appointment you receive from the Bishop and Cabinet is a perfect fit for your ministry gifts and skills, that it meets the needs of your family, that it fits the geography you prefer, and that it comes at just the right time in your ministerial career to help you grow and develop … but if not, I hope you will still be faithful in your ministry.

I even hope that I will be your bishop for the next four years and I get to watch your ministry grow and expand and be fruitful … but if not, I want you to know that I will still be watching and praying for your ministry.

Three names … three words.

There is a message there for you today. And I hope that those three names and three words “haunt” you and bless you for your entire ministry. Amen.