October 25, 2013

Are We Hard Hearted or Just Tired?

The week began with another school shooting, this time in Nevada. The investigation is continuing as information about the person who committed the crime is gathered, sifted, checked for accuracy and finally released to the public.

I remember back in December when the Newtown shootings occurred. The news was on every station. As the day progressed, pictures of the children, teachers, and other school personnel who were killed appeared on television. Extensive coverage continued through the weekend and into the next week as memorial services and funerals were conducted.

Anytime there is a school shooting my heart trembles. My oldest daughter is a teacher in Denver. Her passion for teaching and compassion for her students far exceeds any expectations a principal might request. She loves and cares for the children as if they were her own.

What distressed me about the shooting, and other school shootings that have occurred since Newtown, is that these events are reported almost nonchalantly--as if we are 'getting used' to such occurrences. Is it "no big deal' anymore that lives are lost in tragic circumstances with consequent emotional harm given to those who witness or survive? I have heard very little since about the shootings, compared to the barrage of coverage that occurred in December.

Are our hearts hardened to loss of life or are we just weary of so much tragedy that happens in our own lives and in the lives of others all around the country. Are those in the news media also weary, reducing their coverage of these tragic events that happen way too often.


October 15, 2013

Should All Churches Be Neighborhood Churches?

A friend recently causally remarked how odd it was to want to drive into the city to go to church. As it turns out for this particular church, thousands of people do just that each Sunday. They drive 5, 10, 15, 20 miles to go to church. When my spouse was in the Conference office and our family got to pick our church instead of being assigned to one, we drove past 5 or 6 United Methodist churches to the one where we felt at home. At that time we were also looking for a strong youth program for our daughter, and this church had one. But the point is that we did not go to the church nearest us.

People also don't necessarily go to the nearest or neighborhood grocery store or mall. We have the freedom to go where we want and to find what we need. So the question remains, should we expect people to necessarily attend their neighborhood church?

Again, when my spouse served a large downtown church, people drove as far as 40 miles to attend. Yes, 40 miles each way, each Sunday to come to church. Must be something special about that church? For that family, they wanted their children to attend the church where they had friends.

In our Conference, all pastors are being asked to chart out their neighborhoods and map out where their members live. Sure, it's always good to see, know, and serve the people in your reach. But these days churches can have a much farther reach than their neighborhoods or where they think they can reach.

I know of one small church pastor who started posting his sermons online. Many in the congregation thought it was a huge waste of time. Who would see it? And if they did, they probably wouldn't come to their church. But surprise, they did. And that church now extends the light of Christ around the world.

We in the church shouldn't settle for only those people we can see, we should reach out so that people will see Christ through our church, whether in our neighborhood, city/town, state, nation, or world.

Dream Big,

October 11, 2013

When Laws Are Unjust

In this morning's paper there is a story about a 6 year-old who is being sent to live with his biological parents. According to the article, the mother was a teen when she gave birth and signed the legal documents giving up custody. She has never seen or supported the child. The biological father never signed anything, but he did file suit for custody about 5 years ago, but never acted on it until now. He has never seen the child at all nor offered any support. The child has been living with his "parents" since he was 4 days old and considers them his Mom and Dad. Up until this point, he has been a well adjusted and happy kid living a normal life with people he loves and who love him.

Enter the judge and the court system. The judge believes he is upholding the law, no doubt, but sending the child to live with his biological parents. But in this case, what is in the best interest for the child? Is this a case where the law and strict adherence to it is unjust and immoral? While we might question what is happening with this child, there is no doubt that he will be traumatized and injured as a result of living 6 of his formative years with loving people only to be sent to live with strangers who may or may not love him. He is bonded to his currently family, and psychology suggests that he will never completely bond with these other people. It's been too long and he is too old now.

We in the church can turn to what Paul says about the Law. Paul was speaking of religious law and tradition, but what he says also applies to civil law. In the church we must be careful to make sure that the form of our laws and traditions fit with the spirit of Christ, who is the fulfillment of the Law. And when we see laws that are unjust or immoral, we, as citizens, must speak up and act to change things.

When we say we want to transform the world, this is one way the world needs Christ's transformation.

Grace, Kathy

October 10, 2013

Here Is Servant Leadership at Its Best

Want to see what servant leadership looks like? Here it is. I can just imagine Jesus doing the same thing. Religious or not, what a witness!

From:  http://www.wnct.com/story/23655059/sc-man-vows-to-maintain-national-mall-during-government-shutdown

South Carolina man vows to maintain National Mall during government shutdown

Posted: Oct 10, 2013 7:43 AM CDT Updated: Oct 10, 2013 7:43 AM CDT

The government shutdown led to furloughs for many park service workers.  Now, one man from South Carolina armed with a leaf blower and a push mower is taking it upon himself to clean up Washington's memorials in their place.
Chris Cox calls himself the Memorial Militia and he's been taking away trash, blowing away leaves and even using a chainsaw to clear branches from a path in the area of the National Mall
“Our veterans are coming here in protest and I didn't want to have to see trash littered or spit cups, diapers, banana peels, half eaten apples,” said Cox. “You name it, it was on the ground out here.”
Cox says he's occasionally been asked to stop what he's doing but plans to be there as long as the government is shut down.

Grace, Kathy

October 9, 2013

Communing with the World

I received a call from the church secretary last week, asking  if I could bake a loaf of Liberian Rice Bread for World Communion Sunday. Because I like to bake bread, I was delighted to make a bread that called for some interesting ingredients. I was also interested to see how the bread would look and taste.
I took the bread to church. When I arrived that morning, I walked into the sanctuary to see the altar filled with loaves of bread representing the many cultures and parts of the world: Native America, the Mediterranean, Pacific Islands, Middle East, Central and South America, India, and Africa. The variety in color and texture of each loaf reminded me of the diversity of our brothers and sisters around the globe who would join me as I received Communion.
There was also a blessing of each loaf using these words: "Bless O Lord this (name of bread) and the people of (the country) whom you claim as your beloved."  All of the bread was consecrated as the body of Christ.
The meaning of World Communion was visually represented in a way that brought deep meaning to my experience and participation in the service of remembrance that Christ gave to us, his disciples.
How did your church honor this annual celebration?
Jacquie Reed 
Fishers, Indiana

October 8, 2013

Raising Church Walls in Masarura Africa

From Eric and Elizabeth Soard, Missionaries

It is hard to talk about someone else’s experience. It is hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This is definitely the case with us and short term mission teams. It has just been a long time since we have been new here. It has been a while since I have had to process something without at least some insight into the culture that produced the response. It has been a while since I had tons of people around me and I didn’t understand a lick of what they were saying. Since it would be a difficult task to talk about the experience that the Northside UMC mission team from Jackson, TN had, I won’t. Instead I will talk about what we loved about having them here.

We loved to see the walls at Masarura UMC being raised. This is a church that started its foundation almost a year ago. This next step has been a long time in coming and it is great that Northside was here to participate.

We loved seeing smiling faces on kids…and adults as they participated in Vacation Bible School at four different churches. It was great to see kids running around, but equally heart warming to see grown men color painting and helping with the kids as they learned Bible stories.

We loved hearing about the new knowledge that people gained through medical seminars where instead of giving out medicine that will be used up in a short time, people were given knowledge of how to do preventative medicine on their own and spend less time and money at the hospital.

Most of all we loved seeing a team come back. This is the second trip for this church and for some of the team members. This type of continuing relationship and the knowledge and friendships it builds means so much to us and how effective the mission team can be in their time here.

We also love how they did what they did. They saw, they listened, they learned, they experienced, they took more memories than pictures, and they started the always necessary and challenging task of processing an intense, cross-cultural experience that is normally at least a little uncomfortable and complex in its abruptness. I know because we talked about it. We talked about how a mission trip is for a week, but when that uncomfortable week can stretch into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, and years into a lifestyle, whether at home or overseas, then we know that we have done something right.

We can’t speak for them, but we can say, “Welcome back, we would love to have you again.”
 Missionary Bios can be found at www.umcmission.org

October 7, 2013

When Going to Worship Hurts

How many times have I heard clergy spouses share stories of pain? Way too many--even some of my own experiences in churches brought challenges.  

One of the most difficult aspects of pain in ministry has to be seeing persons in church each week who have made unkind remarks or caused disturbances in committee meetings that have hurt my husband and consequently have an impact on me and our family.

I hear lay people comment that attending church is a source of renewal and comfort, a time to gain support in the body of Christ and to celebrate those occasions that bring joy.

What can clergy spouses do, when Sunday becomes the hardest  day of the week. (I've heard these words so many times, especially recently).  Where can spouses go to seek God's presence in worship? 

Something I did a few years ago, helped me greatly.  I asked my husband if I could go somewhere else to church for a month of Sundays. He knew I was supportive of his ministry, but circumstances at church were just too overwhelming, and I needed a break. He agreed.  

Since I knew every United Methodist pastor serving a church within a twenty mile radius of my home, I decided to attend four different Quaker churches. I walked into the sanctuary and came to a place where I could be present to God. I did have a sense of community experiencing worship in the body of Christ even though I didn't know anyone.  

I found the Quaker service one of peace and quiet. The ten minutes of silence in the middle of worship was an opportunity for me to drink God deeply into my soul. I appreciated my time away from my own church, and returned refreshed and renewed.

An interesting aspect of my time away was no one missed me. No one asked my husband where I was. I realized I did what was necessary to care of myself. It just did not matter what anyone said or thoughy. 

I pray that if your church is a place of pain that you can find another church to attend for worship, even for one week to care for yourself and re-connect with God.


October 2, 2013

A Fun Read

Want to help your congregations know more about who we are and what we believe as Methodists about God and God's will? Then check out this new book by Dr. Don Thorsen.

Calvin Vs. Wesley: Bringing Belief in Line with Practice (9781426743351)

Many people do not consciously select a belief system. They do not critically examine or compare various faith communities. Instead they breathe in the prevailing cultural air and with it, the theology de jour. Given recent discussions in the public square, it appears that Calvinism, with its vocal emphasis on God’s sovereignty and God’s will, is holding sway. In fact, there is so much Calvinism saturating the culture that some people do not even know that there is an alternative way of thinking about their faith, despite how they behave in their daily life. Consequently, people can be left thinking like Calvinists but living with a desire to change the world, offering grace and hope to hurting people in mission and ministry—loving the least, the last, and the lost. In other words, they may believe like Calvinist but live like Wesleyans.

In his new book, Calvin Vs. Wesley: Bringing Belief in Line with Practice, author Dr. Don Thorsen writes that  what Calvinists and Wesleyans actually believe about human responsibility, salvation, the universality of God’s grace, holy living through service, and the benefits of small group accountability. Further he demonstrates how these concepts connect to how everyday people live out their faith. Calvinists and Wesleyans are different. And by knowing the difference, people will not only see the benefits of Wesleyan theology but will be inspired to learn more, so that they can make an informed choice. Then by knowing who they are through faithful living, they will be further motivated to reach out in mission with renewed vigor. They won’t be obstacles to grace and holiness; but with an open future and in freedom, they can choose to be better disciples and advocates for Christ through service in this world.

The idea behind the book is not that Wesley is right and Calvin is wrong but that what we believe is reflected in how we act. 

Here is a video review of the book by Shane Raynor from the Ministry Matters website.




October 1, 2013

Prayer Requests

An Iranian court rejected pastor SAEED ABEDINI's appeal for a shortened sentence, increasing the likelihood he will serve eight years in Iran's notorious Evin Prison. Abedini, 33, is an American citizen who was arrested last year while visiting Iran to set up a government-approved orphanage. Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, called the court's decision "devastating" for her and her two children. Abedini's legal counsel said the ruling amounts to a death sentenceunless the Tehran Supreme Court intervenes. 

Pray for Saeed Abedini and his family.

North Korea rescinded its invitation for a U.S. envoy to visit imprisoned American citizen KENNETH BAE. Bob King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights, had been scheduled to travel from Tokyo to Pyongyang to seek Bae's release. North Korea, which blamed the U.S. for the cancellation, accused Bae, a Christian, of subversion and sentenced him in April to 15 years of hard labor. Bae has since lost 50 pounds and was hospitalized with a variety of health problems.

Pray for Kenneth Bae.

May God's Grace Be With You,

Our Mission: Passionate Witness

Matthew 28:18-20
“Rekindle in us the power of your love.”  Some will recognize those words as part of the Prayer to the Holy Spirit. The power of Christ’s life fueled the Disciples and enabled them to fulfill their mandate to spread the Gospel throughout the world. We, who are Jesus’ disciples, are also tasked with this same mission. In fact, we repeat this mission every Sunday when our pastor asks our congregation, “And what is our mission?” And we reply, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world.”  When we say these words each Sunday, I think of the great cloud of witnesses, those who have come before us, encouraging us to go forward.  And I imagine that God is pleased with our willingness to witness, but I am convinced that God is more pleased when we actually do it—when we are freed for joyful obedience and act on our faith. Having good intentions isn't enough.

For years I've had good intentions about exercising regularly. I’d start and do well for a time, then quit when the going got tough or when I just was too tired. But having breast cancer this spring gave me an opportunity to take advantage of the wonderful fitness ministries at the YMCA, one of which is the ABC program. As part of this program, I get to meet with a personal trainer who helps me and keeps me accountable so that I can make my fitness goals. I still am tired from my long commute to and from work. Most days it is still hard to drag myself to the Y, but knowing that my trainer has set aside time for me and has an investment in me, gives me added motivation. She rekindles my resolve by the power of her investment in my progress.

So how much more will God rekindle us through the power of his Spirit? God is invested in us and has tasks for us to accomplish. We can be sure that we don’t have to go it alone. In addition to his Holy Spirit, God gives us each other.  And that’s a good thing, because transforming the world takes all of us. God is our trainer. He’s there to motivate us and keep us accountable. But God also provides us with the fuel of faith to help sustain us when things get tough.

Dear God, Rekindle in us the power of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew and face of the Earth. Oh God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise and ever enjoy your consolations. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.