Posts

IMG_1399

Weekend of Services Signups Start July 24!

Sign Me Up!

Sign Me Up!

Weekend of Service Signups begin Sunday, July 24 for projects that will be held on Saturday, August 13. Signup sheets are located in the narthex along with donation boxes to provide the teams with the supplies they will need, if any.

Weekend of Service Projects

(1) School Kits – 8/13 – 9:00 am till done – Ruth & Auburn Boyers Assemble 100 school kits in church Fellowship Hall for delivery to the Shenandoah District Office School Kits

1 pair rounded tip blunt metal scissors

3 70-count spiral notebooks or notebooks totaling 200-210 pages

1 30-centimeter ruler (12 ʺ)

1 hand-held pencil sharpener

1 box 24 (only) crayons

1 large eraser

6 new pencils with erasers

1 12ʺ x14ʺ to 14ʺ x17ʺ cotton or lightweight canvas bag with cloth handles

NO LOOSE-LEAF OR FILLER PAPER

(2) New Community Project (NCP) Garden on Church Grounds – 8/13 – 9:00 am through lunch – Julie Foster and NCP Representative The group will be working to create a weed-free barrier or edge approximately 3-feet wide around the entire garden with wood chips. If the group completes the barrier, they will put in fall flowers on the edge facing the road. The group will work until10:45 am. Then, the group will go to Vine and Fig to get a tour and informational session regarding projects located at the NCP white house on North Main/Liberty Street. After that, the group will go to The Little Grill Co-op for lunch. Individuals will then have the opportunity to join other Weekend of Service projects after lunch. Flat cardboard – large pieces (broken down boxes, etc.)
(3) Grocery Bag Distribution & Collection for Blue Ridge Area Food Bank – 8/13 – All day – Derek Young & Micah Morris Youth and advisors, and interested adults, will distribute bags in the community on both 8/3 and 8/10. They will collect the bags and deliver the food to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank on 8/13. Cereal

Peanut or Almond Butter

Canned Tuna and Chicken

Canned Soups, Stews and Chili

Canned Fruit

Canned Veggies

Beans, Canned or Dried

Boxed Mac & Cheese

Pasta and Rice

Spaghetti Sauce

Paper Products

Baby Food, Formula, and Diapers

Soap, Toothbrushes, and Feminine Products

(4a) Park Trash Pick-up and Bottled Water Distribution – 8/13 – All Day – Heather Smith & Sandy Kinsey

(4b) 2:00 p.m. – Bingo with Bridgewater Assisted Living Residents (2nd Floor Activities Room)

Children and interested adults will clean up Westover Park behind the church. Afterwards they will distribute bottled water to individuals in this and possibly another park. They will conclude the day with a visit to Bridgewater Retirement Community to play a game of Bingo with the residents. Bring a hat & wear sunscreen Large Trash Bags

Small Surgical Type Plastic Gloves

Bottled Water

(5) Hospital & Firehouse Visits – 8/13 – All Day – Carol Stickley & Cathy Grogg Visit the local hospital, fire stations, and emergency squads, and distribute candy with notes attached thanking the staff for their service to the community Lollipops

Ribbon

(6) Camp Brethren Woods – 8/13 – All Day – Camp Representative Work at Camp Brethren Woods staining wood railings and decks if time permits. The camp was so happy with the work that we did to last year that they would like us to help them again with staining Supplies to be provided by the Camp
(7) Salvation Army – 8/13 – All Day – Emily Morris Dust and steam clean/ vacuum the men’s area of the Shelter. Also clean windows. The Shelter provides cleaning supplies, but appreciates donations. Items that you might want to bring are cleaning supplies, plastic work gloves, and cleaning rags

We will use the same T-Shirts as last year. If you want to order one, there is a signup sheet for this as well. Payment for these is on a donations basis (write a check to the church with WoS T-Shirts in the memo line).

We are collecting Food for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, and New or Gently Used Paperbacks for the Middle River Regional Jail’s Library.

The Weekend will start off with entertainment on Friday evening (planning still in the works). There will be a simple breakfast available on Saturday morning (bagels and coffee) prior to our prayer/commissioning service which will begin at 8:30 a.m. Then we will break into teams and head out at for the service projects. Upon returning to the church, a cook-out will be served followed by free swimming from 7:00-8:00 p.m. at the Cecil F. Gilkerson Community Center pool just behind the church.

Camping. Interested individuals and families can pitch their tents or bring their campers and park them on church grounds both Friday and Saturday nights. All are welcome to the camp fires and S’mores where sharing of the days’ events and fellowship will be enjoyed. Please just indicate on the project signup sheets whether you plan to camp either or both nights.

On Sunday, August 14 during the church service, the project teams will share their experiences and reflections on our 2016 Weekend of Service. So come to our Weekend with your smart phones, cameras, enthusiasm, families and friends. And follow us at #loveserverepeat, Harrisonburgfirstcob.org, and https://www.facebook.com/fcobharrisonburg/.

Follow us!

Follow us!

Screen-Shot-2015-04-09-at-8.31.40-PM

For such a time as this…

Over the next five weeks, we will take a look at the book of Esther.  If you haven’t read Esther, I’d encourage you to read it! It reads like a thriller or even a romance novel. And yet, we can learn much about what it means to live a life committed to God and to one another as the body of Christ during difficult times. Do you ever feel like your swimming upstream? That the choices you make and your commitment to faith seems so foreign to others that you find it difficult to stay the course? Perhaps you feel discouraged and insignificant or unable to change things anyway? These are some of the very things that we read about in the book of Esther.

As part of our study, we will look at the different characters in the story and the choices that each of them make in their own times; some in faithfulness to God and some quite faithless at all. we’ll be challenged to reevaluate our own choices. We will be reminded that each of us have been given gifts and passions for God to use to effect change and bring about justice in our own communities. Together, we’ll ask ourselves the famous question Mordecai asked Esther:”Who knows if you have not become royal for such a time as this?”

Join us for worship Sundays at 10:30!

Pastor Beth

the empty chair

It’s. All. About. Love.

Who doesn’t love to hear the parable of the prodigal son? Or the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin? We love hearing these stories about God’s immense love for us and being reminded of our value as children of God. But there’s the rub. These stories are not necessarily about us. They are about the other. We have all grown up loving these wonderful stories about God’s love but we rarely take into account the context of these three wonderful parables:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” – Luke 15:1-2.

During the time of Jesus, there was a vibrant renewal movement going on among the Pharisees, Sadducees and Teachers of the Law. It involved a rigorous keeping of “every jot and tittle” of the law. They were especially focused on the rituals of table fellowship following strict dietary codes, ritual cleansing and purity laws as well as eating with only those who were “pure” like them. It is important for us to remember the play of words for Luke in this context. “Pharisees and teachers of the law” were a part of this Torah and Table renewal. “Tax collectors and sinners” refers to all who were not rigorously observing these table rituals, Jews included. So you can imagine just how unnerving it was for this influential teacher of the law, son of God, Jesus to eat and drink with sinners.

Marcus Borg in his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time writes,

“The open table fellowship of Jesus was thus perceived to be a challenge to the purity system. And it was: the meals of Jesus embodied his alternative vision of an inclusive community. The ethos of compassion led to an inclusive table fellowship, just as the ethos of purity led to a closed fellowship.”

So imagine with me for a moment this earthy, radical, young and influential Jewish rabbi Jesus sitting around a table with those people… you know those people who aren’t keeping the law, people who made you unclean. You know, those people who make us feel uncomfortable,who aren’t like us. Right? Anyway they are laughing and eating and drinking at the same table as Jesus. They are rubbing shoulders with him! Jesus is teaching them, loving them, affirming them but most of all he is including them in this new kingdom of God.

Now imagine with me, a group of people in the background, they are whispering in hushed voices about the company that Jesus is keeping. How could this prophet keep company with the likes of these people? Doesn’t he know that they don’t obey the law of the scriptures? Doesn’t he know that they are making him unclean and not fit to worship or teach in the temple? What will other churches think if he keeps letting people like that come to Bible studies?

Unfortunately, this is a very common occurrence in our Christian communities.

Churches spend more energy in dark corners worrying about who’s in and who’s out, arguing about the rules and those people, rather than focusing their energy and resources on actually loving people.

Richard Rohr recently wrote in his recent blog entry, “learning to love”,

“Jesus became someone to actually imitate and not just to collectively worship. Believe it or not, this has hardly ever been the norm or practice of most Christians. We preferred Sunday morning worship services and arguing about how to conduct them or prohibiting each other from attending “heretical” church services. God must just cry.”  – Richard Rohr

So overhearing their murmuring, Jesus responds to these Pharisees and naysayers with three parables. Each parable tells us something of Jesus and his love for the other… those people.

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus wants us to remember that the one sheep that wondered away from the flock because he couldn’t hear or chose to ignore the shepherd’s voice is as important to the good shepherd as the other 99 sheep who were faithfully following their masters voice and commands.

Now to tease this out you have to remember the audience. The 99 sheep who were keeping the commandments were of course, the Pharisees. Their life was committed to keeping all of the commandments, observing all of the purity rituals, making all of the appropriate sacrifices… and because of that, they felt protected. They were in the flock. They were secure.

But the good shepherd does something just crazy! He leaves all of those obedient ones and runs after the one sheep who, for whatever the reason, is not obeying the shepherds voice. And when he finds the sheep he beats him and punishes him and gives him what he deserves! Good on him.

No, he puts the sheep on his shoulders and carries him home. He calls his friends together and says rejoice with me!

Similarly, in the second parable, the widow loses a precious coin. She looks all over the house trying to find it. Who among us hasn’t lost something precious to us only to desperately try to find it? We put microchips in our pets, find our phone apps so we can locate our cell phones when they’re missing. When we recover those precious things there is genuine joy, relief and celebration. How much more rejoicing in heaven will there be over one lost soul that finds its way back into the loving arms of Jesus?

You see, Jesus is saying two things here:

  1. All of humanity belongs to God. We are all created by God. We are all loved. We are all valuable to God… so valuable that God will go to all extremes to recover what belongs to him.
  2. People are more important than rules.

Have you ever wondered why we get so hung up on the rules and place such importance on them? They give us a false sense of safety. If we are following all the rules well then, we’re good when it comes to God and well, he must really love us! Subsequently, all of those others who are not keeping God’s commands, well they are wrong. They are out. God doesn’t love them as much as he loves us.

This is the rub for the Pharisees in Luke chapter 15. Jesus sums it all up for them at the end of the prodigal son story… you may remember the son goes out and squanders all of the inheritance while the older brother remains at home… working hard…. Keeping all of the rules. When the younger son finally returns home the father throws a huge feast, killing the fatted calf reserved for the most extravagant occasions. The older son is nowhere to be found. The father goes out to find the older son… you know… the Pharisee… sulking because it isn’t fair. The father should love him more for being obedient. Its just human nature.

But notice what Father says in the parable:

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Jesus tells this parable so that they can understand. The inclusion of others doesn’t exclude them! It brings the kingdom of God a little closer. Luke retells this story to remind the church to rejoice over the recovery of life and the inclusion of the other. We are to make room at the table!

Jesus told his disciples in John 13:

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35

 You see my friends, it’s all about love. It’s the one thing that we need to get right as the church. It’s the power of God’s love that wins, that melts the hardest heart, that consoles the loneliest heart, that restores the heart that is broken.

 

 

Practicing the Sabbath... yielding for God's provision

A Quest for Jesus – Journeying toward a deeper relationship with Jesus

Practicing the Sabbath... yielding for God's provisionDear Friends,

Over the past year, I have found myself wondering about our country’s current expression of Christianity. I have often felt overwhelmed with Christian mud slinging in the name of Jesus, words of judgment and hate paraded across the Internet, and sometimes-downright heresy. I confess that at times I found myself feeling ashamed to call myself Christian.  How could there be such vast differences between the Jesus I have come to know and love through scripture and the political, pop culture Jesus that seems to dominate social media? It grieves me. It concerns me. It humbles me.

As I began to pray about our Church’s Lenten Season, I sensed an invitation to journey more deeply toward Jesus. I began to share my thoughts and feelings with some of my colleagues and they recommended several books. So, I picked four books and invited several persons in the congregation to prayerfully read them with me. As a pastor, this was more than a personal journey; it was a subject of prayer and searching on behalf of our congregation. The books we read together are: Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: the Historical Jesus and Contemporary Faith – Marcus Borg, Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for political Power Is Ruining the Church – Greg Boyd, The Jesus I Never Knew – Phillip Yancey, A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Gospel of Peace – Brian Zahnd

The brothers and sisters that I asked graciously agreed to read with me and ponder following questions: What is the most important thing you learned about Jesus and the Church from your book? How has that impacted you? If you could share one thing you have learned with the congregation, what would it be? What passage of scripture best demonstrates this new understanding?

After reading the books, we met together and discussed what we had learned. We shared new and fresh perspectives that we had gained about Jesus and Scripture. After a rich conversation, we identified the following topics that we will cover each Sunday in Lent. These are the things that the Holy Spirit seemed to highlight for us.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Lent 1 – Sunday February 14th

“It’s. All. About. Love.”

Luke 15:1-32

Children’s thought: Did you get a Valentine for Valentine’s Day? Did you know that God sent you one too? God sent us Jesus to show us how much he loves us! No matter what we look like, or what we have done, or what kind of grades we make, God is in love with us! He thinks we are great! God wants us to share that valentine with others.

 

Lent 2 – Sunday February 21st

“The slow way: modeling power under as opposed to power over.”

Scripture: Luke 4:1-13

Children’s thought – Jesus was a servant. He served others instead of serving himself even when he didn’t have to.

 

Lent 3 – Sunday February 28th

“Live Christ-like now.”

Luke 6:1-32

Children’s thought – Has anyone ever done something nice for you that made you feel really good? How about when you didn’t deserve it, has that ever happened to you? It’s a really special thing when we think we are going to get in trouble for something we did but instead someone reminds us of how much they love us and does something kind for us! That’s how Jesus is! Jesus wants us to live that way too.

 

Lent 4 – Sunday March 6th

“It’s not about what we shouldn’t do… it’s about what we should do.”

Luke 10:25-37

Children’s thought – We hear a lot of “should not’s” in life don’t we? But Jesus spent a lot of time teaching us about “should’s”. He wanted us to know how important it is to love people. We should love. We should be kind. We should help people when they need it.

 

Lent 5 – Sunday March 13th

“The kingdom of God is happening right now, here, today.”

Luke 7:18-35

Children’s thought – Have you ever wondered what heaven is like? I know we all do! Jesus wants us to live today as happy as we would be when we are in heaven. In fact, he wants people to see what his kingdom is like on earth right now! Do you know how that’s supposed to happen? You and I are to help people see heaven by loving one another, helping one another and caring about one another.

 

Lent 6 – Sunday March 20th (Palm Sunday)

“It’s easy to fall into group thinking – take time to discern kingdom living.”

Luke 19:28-38

Children’s thought – We hear a lot these days about the presidential election don’t we? Did you know that when Jesus rode into town on the donkey that people were waving their palms because they thought he was going to be the president… or the King? Everyone was convinced! The whole group thought that Jesus was going to set the world strait by making Israel a powerful nation. What would you do if you were going to be president? Jesus did something completely unexpected. He decided he would be a servant instead. Can you imagine that? He washed people’s feet! He served them dinner… and he even went to jail and was punished in the place of other criminals. That’s a very different kind of kingdom isn’t it?

________________________________________________________________________________________________

As we begin this season of Lent, I invite you to consider what Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the light.” Jesus is the way. Jesus is the Truth. Jesus is the light that illumines our perplexing times. How much do we actually know and understand about His way? How much time do we spend reading His story in the Bible under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit? I want to encourage you to make a journey toward Jesus this Lenten Season. What can you strip away in your own life that will free you to relate to Jesus more deeply?

Journeying with you in Christ,

Pastor Beth

small group 3

Multiply Groups Underway

small group 3

The Multiply Small Groups are underway! If you are interested in checking out a group or the series of studies, you can still do so. Multiply was the brain child of Frances Chan and David Platt, authors of the book Multiply. The goals of the Multiply material, which are simple, practical, and Biblical, are to help individuals understand Scripture and to give them the tools to disciple others. The book and related materials are available free of charge online at https://multiplymovement.com/; however, the Multiply materials have been adapted for an intergenerational audience and specific age groups at First Church by members of our Discipleship Coordinating Committee: Linda Logan, Emily Morris, Casey Morris, Pastor Beth, and Derek Young. The Multiply Small Groups are the following:

Small Group Meeting Time Meeting Location Facilitator(s)
Elective Sunday School Class 9:30-10:15 a.m. Sunday 2nd Floor Front Classroom (above Narthex)* John Mark Logan & Daphyne Thomas
Covenant Sunday School Class 9:30-10:15 a.m. Sunday Conference Room* Libby Smith & Roy McCutcheon
Friendship Sunday School Class 9:30-10:15 a.m. Sunday Friendship Classroom* Auburn Boyers & Linda Logan
College/Career Group (post high school to 25 yrs of age)

 

4:30-6:00 p.m. Sunday Conference Room* Derek Young
Multiply Small Group 6:30 p.m. Monday Home of Emily & Henry Morris (child care available) Micah Morris
Multiply Small Group Tuesday Home of Emily & Henry Morris Members alternate as facilitators
Bridgewater Home Group 1:30-3:00 p.m. Wednesday Community Room

Assisted Living 3rd Floor

Bridgewater Retirement Home

Jo Ann Soucek & Brenda Fox
Praize Kidz Bible Study 6:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday Children’s Music Room in Basement* Sharon Helbert
Multiply Small Group 6:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday Conference Room* John Staubus
Stickley/Young Small Group 7:30-9:00 p.m. Thursday Youth Room off Gym* Carol & Chris Stickley & Derek Young
Downtown Dinner Group 8:00 p.m. Thursday Various restaurants Abe Shearer

*These locations are in First Church of the Brethren, 315 S. Dogwood Dr., Harrisonburg, VA

If you need additional information or have questions, please call the church office at 540-434-8288.

 

 

 

Faith in Action Meeting

Faith in Action

Faith in Action Meeting

Faith in Action Meeting

This past spring four members of First Church (Pastor Beth Jarrett, Brenda Fox, Micah Morris, and Carol Stickley) attended the kick-off meeting of Faith in Action here in Harrisonburg. Faith in Action is an interdenominational organization formed to solve systemic problems in the local community and county. It seeks to move beyond charity to address the root causes of problems. Faith in Action is modeled on the IMPACT (Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together) organization in Charlottesville, and was started by a group of five individuals who make up the steering committee.

Covenant churches join Faith in Action by nominating two representatives and offering a contribution toward its operation. The churches also commit to undertake a listening process with members of their congregations to identify those community issues which they are most concerned about.

Faith in Action undergoes an annual cyclical process whereby issues are identified and researched and then an outreach and lobbying effort is undertaken with local leaders. Each year a specific issue is chosen for the organization to focus its attention upon. At its September 27 meeting, the issue of Immigrant Justice was announced as the focus of the 2015-2016 year. This issue will be narrowed to a specific topic during the fall research phase as meetings are held with immigrant agencies and individuals.

Currently sixteen churches are covenant congregations. They include Methodist, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Catholic, and Lutheran churches among others. If you would like to learn more about Faith in Action, you can go to their webpage at http://www.harrisonburgfaithinaction.org/.

The recent controversy over whether to build a new jail in Harrisonburg showed how effective community involvement can be. Faith in Action offers the opportunity to become involved on a similar scale. Is First Church of the Brethren ready to carry forward the spirit and enthusiasm of our Weekend of Service to join with our brothers and sisters in the faith and address problems in Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County?

As our ministry teams and congregation begin to build our budget for 2016, we hope that the First Church congregation will support the modest amount included in the Witness Team’s 2016 budget for Faith in Action and that we will undertake a listening/action process to identify those community issues which most impact our congregation.

Respectfully submitted,

The Witness Team Members

Beth Cash, Chair, Sharon Helbert, Vice Chair, Brenda Fox, Joyce Leake, and Carolyn & Larry Seilhamer

the grace of giving

bubbaIn May of 2000, I lost someone very dear to me… my stepfather, Daddy Bill. He died about three weeks before we returned from Italy. Daddy Bill was in a very real sense my father… he provided security, stability and love for me as a teenager desperately needing a father. One thing I loved about Daddy Bill was that he always had a dog… and he loved his dog very much… Bubba was his name. He was a yellow lab… very big, very loving, very smart and very, very loyal. When I returned home from Italy, I found Bubba depressed. He was lying on the floor and would not get up and move. The vet had decided that if he didn’t make an improvement, Bubba would have to be put to sleep. So I decided to take him back home with me to the farm and try to love him and nurse him back to health. After all, that’s what my stepfather had done for me. Our family extended hospitality to Bubba and were mostly blessed (other than when he had big mistakes that big old dogs make… but we won’t go there) He actually lived for another 5 years. He brought us joy and love while at the same time blessing us with the opportunity to show love and appreciation to Daddy Bill by caring for something that he loved very much.

In essence, that is what giving is all about. It has has to come from a place of deep identity and gratitude to God.  If we are honest with each other, there really is no earthly reason for us to just give away our hard earned money, time and energy away. The only real reason for us to do something that crazy is because we genuinely love God and are grateful for all that God has done for us. 

So how do we make the move from a worldly view of giving to a kingdom view? We do it because of our gratitude for the grace and love that God has shown us. You know, my dog Bubba was very large and as any of you who have had a lab know, they shed something terrible. I had to clean up the floors after him often. I even had to change my clothes before I could leave the house because I was always covered in white dog hair. He was old and had frequent accidents as I mentioned earlier that Harry or I would have to clean up. His special dog food sometimes cost more than our people food. We almost needed pet insurance to afford some of his medication for arthritis. Extending hospitality and being generous to Bubba came at a cost. But I have to tell you that I never regretted my decision to take him in, because I was motivated completely by the love of my Daddy Bill, my stepfather, who had shown such love and grace to me. Doing something that I knew would please him was enough motivation for me.

The spiritual discipline of giving can only come from that place; an awareness of God’s lavish love, grace and provision for us and a deep trust that if we were to ever need anything from our father in heaven that He would do the same thing for us. Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth says this, “But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” Ways to Practice:

  1. Take some time and remember times in your life that you were keenly aware of God’s presence and provision. Perhaps there were times that you felt special care from other people. Try making a list of all of the God moments and grace filled moments you have experienced in your life. Ponder how much of those things you actually earned? Allow yourself to be filled with gratitude to God. Try thinking of a way to express that gratitude in some measurable way. Notice how that makes you feel and how it strengthens your love and appreciation for God.
  2. Try giving a thanksgiving offering to church or an organization that helps others just because; not out of obligation but for the grace of giving. Notice the ways in which that kind of giving forms you.
  3. Try doing a random act of kindness trusting in God’s ability to multiply the gift.

More than enough

abundanceIt is said that giving is the spiritual thermometer of the church. A healthy congregation will experience healthy giving because it is tied directly to our understanding of God and our relationship to him. And yet, it seems to be a difficult topic for us to talk about.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Walter Brueggemann share on the topic of money and giving. I was profoundly impacted by his words and have continued to mull over the implications of all that I learned. At the core of his teaching was a powerful truth from Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Take a few moments to ponder that statement of faith. It is truly a powerful confession of faith. Let it sink in. Now, ponder this question… who do you think the world belongs to? Is this confession your confession? Because if it is, I want to challenge you to think abut some of the implications:.

As Christians, we believe that the earth is the God’s creation. Everything in it is a gift to us from God… even life itself. I like to think of it in this way: Our days and the things we fill our days with are on loan from God. He is the landlord and we are the tenants of this beautiful world we live in.

Genesis chapter 1:27-30 says this: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”

This is where the term stewardship comes from. God’s intention and purpose in creating us was to be stewards to the earth with all its blessings that has been given to us. The word literally means “An official person who has been appointed to look over someone else’s property. We are God’s stewards. “Stewarship is God’s way of raising people, not man’s way of raising money.”(Willmer Smith)

We are called to live as people of the Doxology… you know, the song we sing after every offering? Praise God from whom all blessings flow. What we have and what we have earned is a blessing from God… he has given us the resources, talents, gifts, and tools we need to thrive on this earth. This is our worshipful response to the many blessings God has given us: that we live our lives in a way that point to the God who is the giver of blessing.

Maybe you are struggling to feel like you are experiencing any type of blessing in your life. That’s ok. We all struggle with feeling like that at different times in our lives.  Too often we have a distorted view of what blessing is. But the biblical definition of blessing is  the divine gift of provision for and support of life. Most of us can say that we are blessed.

I have had the privilege of worshipping in many countries in my life time and this seems to be a difficult one for us Americans. It is always a humbling experience to worship with persons in a less privileged culture and watch their joy and zeal as they dance to the offering plate and give whatever they might have that day be it a fish they caught, a chicken, a couple of coins or whatever else they could give. They were grateful to be alive and excited to express that gratitude to God.

We worship the Lord of the Sabbath. You may remember the story of the Exodus? When the children roamed around in the wilderness for 40 years? Those 40 years were not years we not a waste of time. God’s sole purpose of the perfect number of years was to form a Sabbath people.

Early on in the process, the children of Israel began to grumble about not having enough, in particular not having enough to eat. And so God sends manna from heaven and quail for the children of Israel. But there were important instructions that went alone with it. They were only to gather what they needed for that day. Of course there were some that we enterprising who decided to go ahead and get extra so they wouldn’t have to work so hard the next day or maybe fear that there wouldn’t be enough. The next day, they awoke to find that it was rotten.  God wanted this people he was forming to know… to know… that He alone was their provider.

However, on the sixth day before the Sabbath, they could gather what they needed for that day of worship and rest. Miraculously it did not rot and they had enough; more than enough. The Sabbath was created to remind the children of Israel that they had more than enough. They could depend on God to provide everything they needed each day. God was forming his people to be a people of abundance and not a people of scarcity.

Perhaps you know someone that lived through the depression? It was really hard for people to change from a life of scarcity to a life of abundance. For years, my grandmother saved odd little things because she was living out of that story, a story of need and scarcity. It is not easily done. But that is what God was working at with the children of Israel. That is the story that God intends for us: to live of a life of abundance because we have a God that creates, provides and sustains.

Don’t get me wrong here… this is not about the prosperity Gospel or anything like that. This is about the Creator who gives life itself and offers us the sustenance both spiritual and physical. With that comes the call to be careful stewards of the wondrous creation. (That would require another series of blogs to talk about)

So when we exercise the spiritual discipline of giving we are exercising some core beliefs about God’s identity and our identity.

When we give we are essentially growing in these important areas of our faith:

  1. We are reaffirming our belief that God is the creator and giver of life.
  2. We acknowledge our dependence on God as provider above and beyond all other means of provision on this earth.
  3. We open ourselves to experience and excercise  the freedom God as given us from the slavery of money and scarcity.

Here are some ways you can practice these powerful truths:

  1. Try keeping a gratitude journal each day. Simply jot down the little blessings in your or day that might go unnoticed. At the end of the day take time to thank God for each thing on your list… it doesn’t need to be complicated and simple thanks to God will work!
  2. Try helping a stranger this week… by opening a door, smiling, being polite, paying a compliment. Notice how that makes you feel… how it shapes you… how it empowers you to be a giver instead of a taker. That is living out of a place of abundance. Share what you learn about your experience with a friend or family member.

 

 

 

 

 

So you want to be missional?

For some time now, I have reflected deeply on what it means to encourage the church to become more missional. I am reminded of a parable that Jesus shared in Luke 14, “”Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it?” The problem I see with the call for churches to become more missional is that while the idea of getting more involved with our local communities, opening our churches, having more members or leading persons into a relationship with God is very exciting and appealing, I am not sure that we are fully aware of how that will impact us with both blessings and challenges.

I am not a huge fan of the word missional because for me, once missionary in Sicily for ten years, it doesn’t necessarily communicate what I feel we need to work at as church. While I value the rich discussion, discernment and education that has emerged over the past decade around this, I have come to a place of believing that perhaps talking about the practice of hospitality may be more helpful.


When I speak of hospitality, I am not so much referring to the idea of sharing a meal or opening our homes in the traditional way we tend to interpret the word. Michelle Herschberger in her book, “A Christian View of Hospitality: Expecting Surprises” redefines hospitality in a way that gives us a helpful way to reflect on our spiritual readiness for the stranger. She writes, “(Hospitality) is a choice. We choose to reject suspicion as the first reaction to a stranger. We choose to minister along side of others rather than to them. We choose to let go of some of our own control when we meet strangers and when we interact with those we’ve known for years. We choose to expect surprises from strangers – good surprises that come from God.” (P. 31)

I believe that hospitality, in this sense, postures us to truly receive the gift of the stranger into our churches in a way that promotes mutuality, creativity, freedom, respect and shalom. I am reminded of the sinful woman in Luke chapter 7 who learns that Jesus was dining in a Pharisee’s home. She innocently, ignorantly or knowingly crosses all respectable boundaries and barges into the dinner party with an unforgettable act of worship; an alabaster jar of perfume to be poured over the feet of Jesus. This act of pure, selfless worship infuriated all around the table… did she not know her place? Did Jesus not know her place? The loving response of Jesus that evening demonstrates that kind of hospitality as he received the gift of the stranger. In what could have been an awkward moment, mutual respect, mutual surprises and gifts, mutual love and forgiveness, and shalom were discovered and celebrated.

The love of God is generative… it changes things… and as we open our churches to the stranger bearing new gifts and new expressions of love and worship, we need to ask ourselves if we are ready for whatever shape that may take. Because there is potential of deep hurt and injustice if we resist. Imagine what could have happened in the story with out Jesus demonstrating acceptance, love and hospitality. I think that maybe we need to ask these kinds of questions before we decide to become more missional, because being missional will stretch us beyond our human capabilities. But if we are willing to give a little, we the church will be blessed with a rich, variety of beautiful family members who bring unique contributions to the kingdom of God.

Beautiful things…

Recently a high school student in our congregation introduced me to a new song, “Beautiful Things” to use in one of our worship services. Ever since I heard the song, I have continued to sing and repeat a line of the song over and over to myself… “You make beautiful things out of the dust…” Yes, it does remind me of God creating Adam out of the dust in the creation account, but the power of those words touch something much deeper in me.

I am reminded of Rahab the prostitute who selflessly protected Joshuah and his men… risking her life for someone who knew the most high God. In return, Joshuah gave her a scarlet chord which would save her life when the city was overtaken. How interesting that her life was then woven into the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1… she was one of the grandmothers of Jesus. God makes beautiful things out of the dust…

I am currently planning a service around the story of Rahab and a friend of mine who is preaching that Sunday highlighted yet another dimension in the story. Rahab is the only female mentioned as a hero in the great faith hall of fame in the book of Hebrews. She also wondered inquisitively what prompted the New Testament writers to include Rahab in such a radical way…

After I read my friend’s email, I could hardly sleep that night as the question and the words of the song invaded my heart and mind… it is as if the writers wanted to remind us that God makes beautiful things out of the dust… He delights in using what we may deem as unusable. Sin, background, qualifications, good-standing, race, gender and even religious background do not limit God in how he might use us… in fact it seems that dust makes a very good medium for God to use for the most beautiful creations.

This gives me such hope and life. In the past, I have felt so hurt by the church at times… because I didn’t have the right last name , because of my gender, or the fact that my father had taken his own life. I was often excluded from using my gifts in ministry because I wasn’t “ready”… when in reality, I think it was more likely that they weren’t ready for me. How heart breaking that along the way the church has lost the message of God making beautiful things out of dust.

When did we start deciding who is in and who is out? When did the church start requiring that people behave a certain way before they could belong? It seems to me that the birth of the church in Acts was all about the movement of the Spirit empowering the most unlikely candidates to minister… breaking all kinds of religious rules. Did we forget that our biblical story includes a beautiful heritage of murderers, prostitutes, sexually abused persons, foreigners, pagans, women, men, eunuchs and children? I don’t know about you… but I feel closer to a God who delights in making beautiful things out of the dust because that is my story.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves as the church if we are really ready for the beautiful things God desires to bring forth… if we are… we might just experience something spectacular…

Here are the words and a link to the song:

Beautiful things

All this pain…
I wonder if I’ll ever
Find my way
I wonder if
My life could really change
at all?

All this earth…
Could all that is lost
ever be found
Could a garden come up
from this ground
at all?

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust

All around
Hope is springing up
from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being
Found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new You are making me new
You make me new You are making me new

© worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
Lisa Gungor | Michael Gungor