“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:4-5 I want to add an exclamation point to every one of those statements by Paul. They are words that ring true for us as Christians, and often serve as a guide. The All Stars Class has been studying Philippians for the past two months, and it’s a great portion of scripture to focus on. Paul goes on later in the chapter to encourage that we concentrate on the blessings and good things that God is doing, as we also focus on how we can participate and engage proactively in our discipleship. Many times Julie and I have made a clear decision that instead of dwelling on what is going wrong, we choose to join together to celebrate the ways God is blessing us, and how we have so much to be thankful for. We make a list, and see how strong our blessings are. Together it empowers us to see what resources God is providing, and how we can make the most of them. We’ve been doing this a lot in the last two years. It has inspired our giving and sharing, and kept us focused on the better priorities. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable….if there is anything worthy of praise, think (or dwell) on these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard…”4:8-9 It also challenges us to do our best, to live by our convictions, to make the most of what has been entrusted to us, resources as well as friendships. Paul’s words do not call us to ignore the realities of life; they empower our responses. Christianity is not an escape, or living in a dream or fantasy world. Quite the contrary, we seek to mature in our love by faith in Christ. The Cross keeps us aware of the sacrifices that have been made, and the ones that may be required. I am prayerful about the days, weeks, and months and year ahead for all of us, and for our fellowship at all levels. I am working to trust in God in new ways in new chapters in our lives. I am hopeful that the hard work of our hearts through the years will not be lost. There are so many reasons to be fearful of the future. And yet there are also many great reasons to be hopeful, especially when we see how God is empowering us to thrive and grow in faith. I pray that whatever the fears or concerns that may be filling your hearts and minds, that all of us can see, respond, and live in the understanding that God’s love is stronger than anything we are afraid of. God’s blessings as we move forward this year. – Tim
When we live in the depth of scripture, especially the parables of Jesus, we live in the wisdom of story, and the ways faithful people have been candid, truthful, and learning from life’s journeys. When we write and share our stories openly, truthfully, and candidly, we can see how God is at work in our lives too, even (especially) the worst parts of them. By sharing our stories in faithful ways, we are more able to connect with others, and they with us. I recently attended a retreat in which the main presenter was a student of a professor I also had learned from. The focus of the retreat and our professor’s work was on story telling. Originally the Bible was not read, so much as it was told and acted in story-telling form. When it was shared, the stories were brought to life, which make it easy for people weave their own life journeys into its passages. When it comes to the Bible, we’ve heard so many of the stories, so many times, that we often forget to ask some basic, insightful questions about what people go through when we choose to follow God and Christ. During the season of Lent, we will again host Wednesday evening services and our focus this year will be on the meaning of stories and how they bless and enrich our lives of faith. In any given story, we are likely to identify most with one of the characters; as we grow older, the person we identify the most with may change or shift, because of our own life experiences. As Christians we want to do more than learn about God, Jesus and the disciples; we want to know them in personal ways. The more we come to know them personally, the more likely we are to bring the same blessings into our lives every day, and share our faith as God intends. We know the scriptures are full of great stories; knowing which ones personally mean the most to us, and then considering why they touch us, can help us grow in our faith and our relationships with God in Christ in new ways. We learn how to connect with each other in real friendships. We also gain a sense of story through music; songs tell stories and bless ours, helping us express our emotions in healthy ways. Every person has a story; they make life worthwhile and help us understand life’s meaning. Hoping to tell their stories has kept many people alive and engaged, believing the challenges they faced will help someone who listens. Jesus didn’t just come along and give us a new set of laws or rules to follow; Jesus taught using parables that engage our minds and hearts. They inspire as they affirm empathy and compassion. From Scripture’s examples, we learn and are empowered to tell the whole story, candidly and truthfully. God’s love and mercy makes it possible. God leads us away from gossip that seeks to control or even destroy relationships, to move to being a faithful, trusting people. So I hope that you will join us for our services every Wednesday in Lent, as the story of Jesus Christ is woven into our stories of life and faith. – Tim
From Pastor Tim
“Do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other; be deep-spirited friends.” Philip. 2:2
Christmas brings many huge blessings to our lives. Many people are all about the gifts and personal fulfillment. Faith in Christ helps us see greater possibilities and wholeness. Acquiring good things does not mean that we become more and more independent. As Jesus taught in a famous parable (Luke 12), we don’t build bigger, larger storehouses to hoard our winnings and earnings, or preserve our riches. Instead, in Christ we find new outlets for sharing, helping, and for giving. We are blessed to be a blessing. Among the most important realms we move and live in, these dynamics are especially important in the relationships we share. (From Traveling Light)
We may feel weak or inadequate, with so much happening in our world, we may feel helpless and powerless. Yet in Christ we always have choices and are free to give. But we are not “free” to not give. Because not giv-ing is imprisoning, suffocating, constricting, and enslaving us to what doesn’t give life, and only leads to death. Not giving reduces the full sight of our hearts, minds, and souls. It reduces the scope of living. We are made in God’s image, God who is full of grace and creativity. “Not giving is the narcissistic obsession with the self, and mangles the human spirit.” And so Christ comes to show us how to live life fully, faithfully, in wholeness.
I’m grateful for the many witnesses to our faith that I have seen in people like many of you. The real treasures I have are the memories of the faithfulness I’ve witnessed. Yet sometimes I can’t share what I see because it is private and personal. I’m also challenged at times, if you haven’t noticed, to make sure we have a culture in our fellowship that also lives in grace-filled accountability; we strive to learn and grow from our mistakes, so that we offer the best of our hearts, minds, and lives together in God. It’s not an easy vision to fulfill; it is a faithful one.
So, I think again about Paul in I Thessalonians 5:13, “Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part.” In A Long Obedience, the author writes, “When we become Christians, we are among brothers and sisters in faith. No Christian is an only child.” Even though we are a family of faith, it doesn’t mean we are one big, happy family; we are not always nice people; we do not stop being sinners when we begin believing in Christ. We have our faults and failings, our aggressive and passive nature too. In the midst we remember, “If God is my Father, then this is my family.”
As we begin a new year in Christ, we remember so many people who have loved us and shown and set the Way for us in faith. Their lives testify in very real ways to what Christ can do; God’s love in their lives has led us in our faith. And so we are now called to come close to him in our own personal relationships to see him, relate with him for ourselves. God breaks us free from what might hold us back, and restrict us. He also keeps us on a path of faithfulness. We can see the fullness of God’s creativity and promise that are beyond our imaginations and abilities. I am prayerful about this year ahead; it will be a year of transition; changes and challenges will come. Not the ones that so many people expect; many will be disappointed, indeed someone will not have things the way they would like. When we entrust ourselves to God, we might not get what we expect or want, but we receive blessings beyond our imaginations. I pray you will join me in entrusting our lives to him. – Tim
Affirmation Sunday with Communion
On the first Sunday of the new year, in addition to communion, I’m planning on hosting a special time during the service to affirm the commitments of our leaders to their service to Christ in 2019. We want to say thank you for stepping forward, recognize them, as they feel and affirm God is in their lives as they serve in ministry. I know it is usually not the most well-attended service of the year. Yet it is an important way to begin a year that will bring changes and challenges that in God’s hand will yield many blessings. In spite of uncertainty, we make our commitments and affirmations, and they are even more vital in the face of the turmoil our world faces.
This Advent season I was able to overcome my challenges with technology and placed and received an order for post cards to be used to invite people to our cantata and Christmas Eve services. I would like to have handed out more of them; I mailed about a hundred, and I think we can learn more about how to effectively distribute them, including using them at Winterfest. Market mailing is an option, yet what I have learned from successful efforts other churches have engaged in, is that people most appreciate a personal effort from individuals who reach out to them in a genuine way to invite and welcome. It’s good news, and perhaps also challenging us at the same time to be faithful and authentic in our personal efforts in hospitality. It’s great to have greeters and ushers, guests expect them; it is even more faithful to have greetings come from us all on more personal terms. I pray we are all more prayerful about how we are assertive at greeting, welcoming,and including people into our fellowship and ministries. The greatest welcome center is the human heart in Christ.
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The Way Forward – Vote & Presentation
In February, there will be a special gathering of General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Delegates, half lay members, half ordained clergy, will convene the Conference to make a decision about how our UM Church will relate around the issue of homosexuality. It will not be an easy decision for many because the issue has caused such division within the Church and our nation. Some important dynamics to remember are that the delegates are coming from all over the world. Over 40% are from other countries. I don’t think
anyone can be sure of how the vote will go. Every one of the choices will require a change of some type. Most of our sisters and brothers overseas are more conservative (if that is an appropriate term), and would be likely to make one of three choices. People from the US are likely to be evenly divided in how they perceive the choices.
I have always seen my responsibility as a pastor in the UMC to be faithful in bringing people of diverse back-grounds together in Christ. God’s love helps us understand why certain rules or laws are in the Bible, and guides and motivates our responses. Sharing our experiences helps us effectively put faith in to practice. Diversity has been a core characteristic of who we are; listening is a vital part of our faith. It is a dynamic that has blessed our church, nation, and the world, to listen and seek to understand one another. Many times such an approach to life and ministry also places us in the middle of groups of unhappy people. My hope and prayer has always been that people will come together and share their stories of life and faith, really listening, hearing, and learning from one another. By sharing our journey in God’s grace, while we may never agree on a variety of issues, we can seek to come to understand what we have come through, and see God’s presence and love in our lives, and the people we come to know.
Many people are reluctant to share because of the reactions of others. Looking to scripture is vital, sharing our stories leads us to greater understanding, and hopefully respect. Various sides in this issue have blamed each other for the division and decline in the church. But what many of us as Christians have observed is that it isn’t that we have different perspective on any issue that divides, but it is when people “dig in” and remain unable to listen or seek to understand others, that causes decline and further division and pain. God’s mercy, grace, and love will transform lives on all sides of an issue, whatever the issue may be.
On Sunday, January 6, we will host a time to present the details of the plan and choices about the vote, so that we are prayerful and prepared, understanding what may be before us as we go forward.
Life brings many changes to our lives today. There are many resources that can guide us as they lift our think-ing to include the whole horizon of what is happening, and how we may want to proceed. One of the most memorable transitions a group of people faced was when the Israelites went from Egypt to the Promised Land. It was a difficult journey. It took much longer than expected. What most people would say should take a couple of months to travel, took forty years; forty years! So too, we face transitions that are challenging. We’ve had many, in the last nine years here at Glossbrenner, and perhaps there have been some deep-rooted dynamics that needed to have surfaced, so that they could be dealt with in healthy ways. In the months ahead, it will be wise for us to seek some insight about handling transitions. A classic book on the sub-ject is Managing Transitions, by William Bridges. It’s used by organizations of all types, including churches. Some insights to think about:
It Isn’t the Changes That Do You In
Change is tied to the situation; transitions are about the emotional, psychological aspect of internalizing a process we go through as we come to terms with new situations that change brings to us. It’s hard to let go of the past and who we think we are to move to the uncertainty of a new future, even when it offers us so much potential and creativity. Faithfully getting people through transitions is an essential part of what faith strives to do. “When a change happens without people going through a transition, it is just a rearrangement of the chairs.” (Bridges) And so a three part process is highlighted:
Letting Go of the Old, the old identity and old ways; it’s an ending; a time to deal with losses. (There’s grief to deal with)
Going through an in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational; it is often called the “neutral zone.” New identity and behavior patterns are emerging and often not yet clear.
Coming Out of the Transition Into a New Beginning. Here people really develop a new identity, feel new energy, and see a new purpose or mission with vision that helps motivate them to make things work.
A variety of areas of our lives may be at various stages of transition caused by change at any given time, and it’s all happening at once. Whew! No wonder so many people are tired and stressed! In an organization there can be a variety of people who all have different reasons to be part of the group. Shift some activities and who is doing them, just a little bit, and it causes major upheaval, grief, even stresses or breaks relationships, as people need to shift why they take part. Some people may respond in unhealthy ways, demanding to be at the center of attention, wanting to hold on to perceived status or stability.
It’s tough reorienting our lives to new settings and status. Imagine what the Israelites went through leaving Egypt for the Promised Land; imagine what would have happened had they stayed in Egypt! They would have remained slaves, and melted away into history. Today, there are times when people find themselves in an emotional wilderness, caught between old and new, emerging conditions. Imagine the challenges the early disciples faced too, and yet look at what God was able to do in their lives, and how it has blessed us all since.
In the months ahead, I expect to share more of the book with you and come up with some scriptures to go with it. We will all face changes and transitions this coming year. I believe the book can be a resource to help us thoughtfully reflect on the issues we face. Some additional chapters include:
How to Help People Let Go
Leading People Through the Neutral Zone
Launching a New Beginning
Transition, Development, & Renewal
We may also face great challenges when things don’t change at the times when we think they should or must. In all cases, God is with us and we are not alone. We believe in God who has created and is creating. This understanding is at the core of our faith.