Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Finding a Dwelling place in Mission

John 14:2 “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
In the Gospel of John, Jesus recognizes that his predicted death is a disconcerting message to his disciples.  He assures them that no matter where they go, he will already have been there preparing the way.  This should prove to be a great source of comfort for us.  We can be assured that when we or our loved ones pass from this life to the next that Jesus will be there making all things ready.  We can go with the confidence that we will be greeted warmly and there will be a place for us.  But this should not be seen as merely a future promise- after all, this world belongs to God just as much as the next.  

The immediate implication for us is that we need not fear whatever calling God puts upon our hearts.  Whether we are called individually to ministry with the poor, the sick, our community or the world, we can rest confidently that Jesus is already preparing the way for us.  I learned the truth of this last year when I participated with a community meal ministry.  My role was to serve as host, to greet each person warmly and to be available for prayer and conversation whenever it was desired.  Though this made me nervous as I can actually be shy at times when dealing with strangers, the warmth and joy I found in those I was helping to serve gave me confidence and strength.  I could see Christ’s Spirit all ready at work within our guests and I realized I just needed to find a way to participate with the work that was already being done.

Somewhere, Jesus is preparing a place for you to engage in ministry.  It may be among the poor, the sick, our community, or the world, but I can assure you that our Savior is already there at work.  But we too must be prepared to make a place for the ministry that is to come.  We need to make a place where we can through prayer and discussion to determine the specifics of where God is calling you.  This will require us to make space in our own lives both to listen and to serve.  But I can assure you that when we find the dwelling place in ministry that Jesus has prepared for us, we will find ourselves at home in God’s house.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bullying- Another deadly stumbling block

Matthew 18:6-   ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 
In recent weeks, reports have abounded about children and young adults who have taken their lives as a result of being bullied.  Though the most recent rash of suicides dealt specifically with those harassed because of their sexual orientation, we know that children are targeted for all sorts of reasons.  Any teen who looks a little different, acts a little strangely, is of a different race or religion, or simply doesn’t blend into a crowd is subject to this kind of dehumanizing treatment.  Why the upsurge in such violence?
Though it would take a sociologist years to truly answer the question, I fear that children are merely following the example of the “adults” who are around them.  As I write this during election season, our airwaves are filled with political advertisements that seek to tear apart the opposition.  Each side slanders the other and the cycle spins out of control.  Even in our churches, the debate over critical social issues like war and peace, abortion, and sexuality can devolve into name calling and treating the other as enemy.  When we feel the need to beat each other up to win in political or theological arenas, is it any wonder that our youth follow suit and engage in destructive activities?
Jesus provides a stark warning to those who choose to follow him.  When our sins of action or inaction lead teenagers and children down a path of violence instead of peace, we no longer stand with God but stand against God.  As Christians, we should discuss the controversial political and theological issues of our day.  No matter what the hot button issue is, we are obligated to come together as a community and seek God’s will for our lives.  But we must do so in a way that embraces difference and dissent.  We must not tear down the other simply because they believe God leads them in a different direction.  When we as adults can learn this lesson, we will demonstrate to the little ones around us that following Jesus means to be both passionate about one’s beliefs while remaining open to seeing our savior at work within the other.  Only then will we answer Jesus’ call to remove the stumbling blocks of those around us.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Worship Testimonial

Dear Friends,

For me, going to church in the 50’s and 60’s was all about the quest for the “Sunday School Pin” signifying perfect attendance. That pin was in jeopardy many a Sunday as we nearly didn’t get there for one reason or another! There was one bathroom for six of us and one of us either could not find our shoes or our boots or my sister, the drama queen, was having a meltdown. Mother would put the roast in the oven and set the timer right before we all piled in the freshly washed car. Every Sunday brought new challenges in getting to church and then getting home after the service. I can say after all this each of us received at least two perfect attendance pins.  One thing for which I am grateful is the importance my folks placed on getting us all to church every week.

Now I attend church pretty regularly. I do not much care about perfect attendance and although I am not always in the most receptive state of mind I am always thankful to be there! I find that if I lift my eyes off of myself I create a place in my heart for God and he will speak to me. As I reflect on my faith journey I am conscious of how intricately woven regular worship is in the continuation of this faith journey and spiritual growth. God meets me where I am and reminds me that I am not the center of the universe and if I am open to God’s prodding he will enable me to recognize what is central.

The past several years have presented some personal challenges for me and as I worked through those times I was profoundly touched by the generous gift of prayer and kindness. You are my friends with whom meals are shared, songs are sung as well as laughter and sadness. How wonderfully rich and intimate that makes worship for me! In contrast I think how one dimensional our faith journey would be without each other in this worship experience.

Our Church is rich with projects needing to be done and plans to be made for the future. It is a place of powerful activity and a place of restful comfort. It is a place where friendships begin and grow and a place where we mourn the loss of those very dear. Most importantly it is a place where we can continue to build that ever widening community of faith with one another.

See You All in Church 


Monday, November 15, 2010

Small Group Testimonial

For my Family of Faith at Independence UMC,

My faith life has grown through intentional faith development using small group studies such as Disciple Programs, an Emmaus Walk, corporate worship and reading and studying the Bible in the Sunday morning class with other adults.  I hunger for a relationship with God.  These activities at IUMC have led me to Him.

No other small group has been more vital than the Sunday morning study.  It has been in existence for 11 years.  My brothers and sisters in class listen, hear, apply, love and act on the Word.  Our current study is the book of James.  What is important about his teaching on wealth is that all of us are accountable for how we use what we have.  We should not hoard wealth but be generous toward others.  A couple of years ago all of us from our class were very excited during a worship service when the pastor opened the sermon stating, “I don’t know why I’m preaching about life after death . . .” and our class had just discussed the topic that morning.  That was twenty minutes we were close to God.  We asked with sincere hearts and received answers from Him.

Our church has deepened my faith.  Because of that I want our church to succeed, to grow and lead others to God.  Another intentional faith development using small group is our book club.  The first book, FIVE PRACTICES OF FRUITFUL CONGREGATIONS, reads, “Pledge campaigns are about mission, spiritual growth and relationship to God.  Stewardship efforts deepen prayer life, building community, unite people with purpose, and clarify mission.  People feel strengthened and grateful to serve God through giving.”  I’m feeling this and pray you do too as we consider how IUMC has an effect on the depth of our faith.

With a sincere heart,

Judy P

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Stewardship Testimonial

Dear Friends:

I started my walk with our Lord in the year 2000 when a friend re-introduced me to the man named Jesus. I actually didn’t know much about Him but I was intrigued and so I began to seek.

One of my first questions was, “If I accept Him into my heart, what will He want in return?” He answered, “To believe.” One of my next questions was, “How do I know what God’s will is for my life?”

One area of His will is very clear. He’s very serious when it comes to offerings and tithes. In fact, He seems quite stern in Malachi 3:8 when He asks “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.”

In Malachi 3:10 He further tells us to “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”

When Pastor Jared asked me to give a testimonial about tithing, I struggled with what to say. So I asked God to give me a word. He said “Freedom”. Something about Jesus setting you free. And I said, “hmmmm, I’ll have to look that up.”

There it was in John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

So that’s the answer. That, among other things, is what He is giving me. Freedom.

I knew that tithing would be at least one thing I could get right. So I said, “Okay, Lord, I’ll do it because I love You.” It was a struggle, mostly inside me. I tried to make excuses. I thought about all the “things” I wanted until I looked around at all the “things” I had. I determined that my money could be put to far better use than what I would do with it.

Suddenly, I’m less cluttered. I’m not hanging on so tightly. I’m more open to possibilities, challenges, opportunities and even those pesky changes that come along. It’s a process, but it has increased my faith.

I believe,

Marilyn S

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mission Service Testimonial

When we asked the mission committee for a volunteer to write a testimony about how they incorporate mission with their faith life, they decided they would rather share several testimonies rather than just one.  Thus, we’re pleased to share with you three testimonies about how mission enriches their walks with God.

Christine Z-

“Our role in mission work is to fill a need when we see it.  The food banks do a wonderful job and I am happy I can help there.”

 Tess F-

“Mission work became real to me when I learned about CROP. Five cents would buy a packet to purify a container of water. It often saved the life of a refugee who barely made it to a camp. Blankets could be provided for many families for twenty dollars. Even the cost of building a well was within my budget. I knew that the money I donated became a part of a larger sum and used where it was needed most. However, I couldn’t help feeling at night that someone was a little warmer and in the morning some young girl was in school because there was a well and she didn’t have to walk miles to get water for her family.”

 Susan K-

“Mission work adds to the experience of attending church. It gives a great way of fellowship with fellow church members. Meeting other members from other churches and with people in need. I have learned that people in need are very much like anyone I already know. I was made aware that I could very well be in their position. I have only encountered people in need as humble and very much appreciative. I’ve been impressed with friendliness and graciousness of people receiving meals. Working at the food bank, I have met people who regularly (weekly) volunteer, I have met people old and young. I don’t see the recipients of the food that I work on at the food bank, but I find myself thinking about them as I work and prayerfully consider what life is like for them. The two hours that I work there, the time goes quickly. It just feels really good to be a small part of such a worthy organization. I know the need is great for the services the food bank provides. It is just a good, satisfying feeling and working with other volunteers is simply rewarding. It is the joy God wants for us in this life. It is a joy to help others in need and to realize the blessings we have to share with one whom could very well be us.”

Commitment Sunday will be on November 21st.  Please pray about the ways God is calling you into mission in this coming year.

Pastor Jared and the Outreach Committee

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Commitment Season

This is the first in a series of letters relating to our commitment campaign for 2011:

One of the things the autumn season brings about in the life of the church is a focus on Stewardship.  It is fitting that the start of the programmatic part of the church year include such a focus because it is one of the first things that scripture itself addresses.  After God created the world, God created humanity in the image of the Divine.  Because we hold this image, we are given special responsibility to tend to the world that has been gifted to all of creation-  “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth" (Genesis 1:28, The Message).  When we acknowledge that all that we receive is a gift from God, we are then called to use that gift to bring about the fullness of all aspects of life.  Be it the spiritual life, an ecological life, or an economic life, we are called to use our resources wisely and generously to bring about the life abundant.
            However, when it came time to plan this initial Stewardship campaign, I kept feeling called to widen my range of vision.  Rather than simply calling for a recommitment of our financial stewardship, I felt it vital that we reaffirm the whole of our faith walk here at Independence United Methodist Church.  As such, I set about looking for models of a more holistic “commitment campaign.”  In doing so, I came across the membership requirements for Church of the Resurrection UMC in Leawood, KS.  This church, led by Rev. Adam Hamilton, has been one of the fastest growing Methodists churches in the country.  All who desire membership must commit to the following:
  • To worship regularly.
  • To continue to grow in your faith by participating in a small group study.
  • To serve God with your hands, by volunteering in service to the congregation and the community and world.
  • To give in proportion to your income.
In the next few weeks, we will be sending out testimonials from various members of our congregation about the vital role each of these areas plays in their life.  You will also receive a pledge card that will allow you to make commitments in each of these four areas of your faith life.  On November 21st, we will be having at least seven new members make a commitment to the faith life of this church.  On that Sunday, I’ll ask you also to make a commitment as your return your pledge cards.  As we rededicate our selves and our faith life, I look forward to seeing the ways in which God will bring a new sense of vitality to all who make their church home at Independence UMC.
God bless you in your prayers and discernment,

Pastor Jared