Thursday, December 31, 2015

Practicing Leadership

From Shepherd Leadership: Wisdom for Leaders from Psalm 23 by Blaine McCormick and David Davenport:

Lynn Anderson recounts an incident from some of his travels in the Holy Land. Anderson and his local guide had spent part of a day traveling around the region learning about sheep and shepherds. Late in the day, they observed a man cruelly driving a flock of sheep through the streets of a town. This man yelled at the sheep and whacked them with a stick.... Anderson commented to his guide that this harsh, driving man did not conform to the description of the kind, leading shepherd that his guide had given him throughout the day. "Oh, that man's not the shepherd," his guide replied. "That man's the butcher."

Unfortunately, some followers might feel as though they are in the care of a butcher rather than a shepherd (115).

Christmas Eve Concert

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Practicing Prayer

From The Desert Fathers translated by Helen Waddell:

The brethren asked the abbot Agatho, saying, "Father, which virtue in this way of life is most laborious?" And he said to them, "Forgive me, but to my mind there is no labour so great as praying to God: for when a man wishes to pray to his God, the hostile demons make haste to interrupt his prayer, knowing that their sole hindrance is in this, a prayer poured out to God. With any other labour that a man undertakes in the life of religion, however instant and close he keeps to it, he hath some rest; but prayer hath the travail of a mighty conflict to one's last breath" (116-117).

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Journey of Hope

Remembering the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt for asylum by honoring those who flee their homelands today.

Born for Us (Christmas Eve message)

Isaiah 9:6  For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Luke 2:11  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Moses: “he was a fine baby” (Exodus 2.2)
      Child with disabilities, “born to us”, parents: “she’s perfect”
      “Just Perfect” JP
      Robin’s cousins, dressing their babies in Steelers jerseys
      Represent their loyalties, and their hopes

He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9.6)
      Represent our loyalty – to God’s kingdom (peace, justice)
      Represent our hope – salvation “a Savior, who is …”

“To you is born”
      Birth announcement language
      But the shepherds were NOT the parents …
            Paternity test? Child support?
      Will we claim this child as OURS?
            Our loyalty, our hope

            Our perfect one, our savior

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Signs (4): Leaping

2015/12/20 Christ Church, Mountain Top
Call to Worship, Magnificat, Luke 1.46f
Advent Wreath, Micah 5.2-5a
Message, Luke 1.39-45
Benediction, Hebrews 10.5-10
Sign, sheep, baby ultrasound pics

Philippe Halsman was a famous portrait photographer of the last century. He is credited with more covers of LIFE magazine than anyone else – over 100. His list of VIPs included Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Rogers & Hammerstein, Nixon, Grace Kelly, Salvador Dali. At some point in his career, he began asking every subject who sat for a portrait to also jump for the camera. He believed that it revealed something about a person that normally was not captured in portraiture. Routinely, we sit and smile, no matter our personal feelings. We wear a mask and are quite practiced at putting it on in front of the camera – as well as in daily life. When we jump, we forget about the mask and something else slips out, a truer and more intimate self. Nixon looked stressed and uptight, no joy at all. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis looked a bit nuts, “wild and crazy”.

Favorite 2015 Christmas card pic – couple jumping into a lake … backwards

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Joseph's Story

Thanks to Michael and Judy for sharing this gift, a first person account written by Judy's late father.

A Dramatic Narrative of Historical Fiction
About the Man God Chose to Raise His Son
Albert E. Weller


In just a moment, we are going to meet Joseph – the husband of Mary and Step Father of Jesus.

Christians are very familiar with Mary, her faithfulness and courage….and the part she played in God’s plan to bring Jesus to the world.

But, we don’t know or read much about Joseph.  It is presumed that Joseph died some time before Jesus began His ministry, because he is not mentioned again in the New Testament during those years.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Beth'lem Child

Celebrate, celebrate the advent of a child;
Sage and shepherd know the way as foretold this Christmas Day.
Manger Child, Son of Light, Guide us on tho’ fear of night,
Celebrate in carols of joy, Beth’lem Child.

Celebrate, celebrate the birthday of a king;
Gifts to give, homage paid, songs of praise we sing.
Sleeping child, our Savior given, grace foretold this gift of heaven.
Celebrate in carols of joy, Beth’lem Child.

Celebrate, celebrate redemption from your sin;
The little one laying there will forgive you again.
Jesus Christ, God’s heavenly host, Living Word among the lost
Celebrate this caroling night, Beth’lem Child.

Wise men flee now disguised , celebrate the wondrous child;
Shepherds turn back to their folds, celebrate the grace foretold.
Mary, Joseph now attend raising Jesus to a man,
Till the day we celebrate the risen Lord.

For November 12, 2015 choir practice prayers, by Mike Case, with a photo of the interior of the Case barn

Monday, December 21, 2015

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Filipino Churches and HIV/AIDS

Bishop Pedro M. Torio Jr. (far left) of the Baguio Episcopal area in the Philippines was among those who led the prayers during the candle lighting ceremony in observance of World AIDS Day.
By Gladys Mangiduyos and S.J. Earl Canlas
Dec. 10, 2015 | CABANATUAN, Philippines (UMNS)

The Philippines United Methodist Church lit candles on World AIDS Day to signify an outcry and commitment to end the stigma on HIV and AIDS.
Bishop Pedro M. Torio Jr. of the Baguio Episcopal area was among those who led the prayers during the candle lighting ceremony. It was the culmination of the two-fold forum held for clergy, laity members, seminarians and student leaders on Dec. 1.
"May this moment of candle-lighting signify the beginning of our conscious efforts to end the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS, and may this signify the beginning of creating and building a caring and redeeming community," Torio prayed. . . .
Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana, a United Methodist deaconess and vice chair of the International HIV and AIDS Reference Group of the World Council of Churches, said that the rate of the spread of HIV is fast in the Philippines. 
"We will lose our young people," she said. "The pandemic continues to be one of the most serious health concerns in the world. The church is not a church if it doesn't fulfill its ministry to stop the undue stigma, discrimination and condemnation.” . . . 
"Now there are 25 cases a day being reported. It is one of only seven countries in the world where it is increasing."  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Signs (3): On Fire

2015/12/13 Christ Church, Mountain Top
Call to Worship, Isaiah 12.2-6, responsively
Advent Wreath, Zephaniah 3.14-20
Message, Luke 3.7-18
Benediction, Philippians 4.4-7, selections
Sign, Crutch, with bead necklace

There came to the abbot Joseph the abbot Lot, and said to him, “Father, according to my strength I keep a modest rule of prayer and fasting and meditation and quiet, and according to my strength I purge my imagination: what more must I do?” The old man, rising, held up his hands against the sky, and his fingers became like ten torches of fire, and he said, “If thou wilt, thou shalt be made wholly a flame” (The Desert Fathers, translated by Helen Waddell, 117).

The images of Advent cascade over us today. The warrior exulting with joy – that’s Clay Matthews or J.J. Watt celebrating another sack. The gathering of the lame and the outcast. The wells of salvation. The brood of vipers. Stones made into children for Abraham – an echo of Isaiah’s reference to Abraham and Sarah as “the rock from which you were hewn” (Isaiah 51.1-2, see R. Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol IX, Luke, 84).
      For me, the overwhelming – and most confusing – image is that of fire. Fire that can be both deadly and life giving. Judgment fire and Gift fire. This section in Luke 3 summarizes the preaching of John. It opens with fire – the axe is at the root of the trees, every tree that does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. It ends with fire – the grain is gathered into the barn and the chaff is swept up and burned. And, there is fire in the middle, “He will baptize you with the Spirit and with fire”. At both ends, the reference is clearly to judgment. In the middle, the reference is clearly to gift, though scholars do debate that matter.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Congo Churches Help Rape Survivors

Josephine Efulantu (left) from Office United Methodist Church in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, works with women who have been abandoned, raped or widowed during their country's civil war.
By Kathy L. Gilbert
Maman Doris was walking down a familiar dusty road on her way to a nearby market to buy food.
Suddenly, two men dressed in militia uniforms grabbed her, raped her, leaving her bleeding and seriously injured.
The 60-year-old widow said she has developed “an illness in her uterus and the bleeding has not stopped.” She hides her face as she whispers her story into the ear of a friend, the Rev. Esther Furaha, a United Methodist pastor from Bukavu.
Furaha translates her story and says the woman finally found help when her pastor and friends in her church brought her to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. The hospital is well-known for taking care of women who survived vicious sexual assault.
“She is a faithful United Methodist,” another friend said when he spots her waiting on a bench outside the admission office. He was horrified to learn of her ordeal. “She is in church every week, singing in the choir.”
Doris (not her real name) is one of east Congo’s raped women. There are thousands.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Malaria Challenge in Nigeria

Pregnant women and children under age five receive nets in Mutum Biyu village, Taraba State, Nigeria October 2015.
Four countries, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, and Uganda account for nearly 50 percent of deaths due to malaria (from CDC and USAID reports, 2013). Nigeria is the worst hit with more reported malaria cases and deaths than any country in the world. With a population of about 170 million, many rural and hard to reach villages are often left out of national malaria control efforts. These remote and forgotten villages have been the focus of the Rural Health program of the United Methodist Church in Nigeria. The Nigerian Health Board has been responding to the challenge of malaria in remote villages tucked in the nooks of the Sandstone Mountains of North Eastern Nigeria along the banks of the Upper Benue River and stretching across Federated States of Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba, and Adamawa States. 

The aim of the Rural Health program is to reach the most vulnerable, pregnant women and children under age five with long lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs), malaria diagnosis, and treatment services in these underserved villages. Services are provided through two mobile clinics supported by the Imagine No Malaria grants from the General Board of Global Ministries. The first phase of bed net distribution in 2014 reached 3,400 women in 10 villages. The second phase in 2015 is targeted will reach 15,000 pregnant and nursing mothers in 30 villages. The health board hopes to reach even more villages with nets and services in 2016. Your gifts to the Imagine No Malaria program have given hope to children who might otherwise not make it to their 5th birthday. With your continued support we can do more in Nigeria in 2016. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Signs (2): Wild Things

(Video incomplete)
2015/12/06 Christ Church, Mountain Top
Call to Worship, Canticle of Zechariah, Luke 1.68-79
Advent Wreath, Malachi 3.1-4
Message, Luke 3.1-6
Benediction, Philippians 1.3-11, selections
Sign: Soap (laundry detergent, big container)

The prophet Malachi speaks of a coming messenger, who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. He will be “like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s (launder’s) soap”.
      Clean up your act, you dirty, rotten people! (soap)
      Burn now, or burn later, you dirty, rotten sinners! (fire)
This is what we call “good news”. Or, is it?

Luke introduces this messenger as John, son of Zechariah – the same Zechariah whose song we read responsively earlier in the service. The word of the Lord comes to him in the wilderness, and John is transformed into a voice in the wilderness. When the word of the Lord comes, he finds his voice.
      Luke describes this in the language of another prophet, Isaiah, who speaks not only about the voice in the wilderness, but the transformation of the wilderness. In sci-fi language, we’re talking “terra-forming”. Mountains brought low, valleys filled, rough places planed, crooked places straight.
      Sounds like the strange stories we hear of cities and nations preparing to host the World Cup or the Olympics, the corruption involved in selecting hosts, the construction projects that are never used again, the beautiful stadiums for which there are no roads, the hotels not quite completed, the water way filled with toxic bacteria. Today, when we “prepare the way”, it gets quite toxic. This is what we call “good news”. Or, is it?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Global Health programs

When solar panels were delivered to the Luena maternity ward in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) earlier this year, huge crowds showed up for the big day. The center, run by the local United Methodist church, previously had no electricity. Where kerosene lanterns once provided the only source of light at night, reliable solar power now helps medical staff more confidently deliver the first-rate care that local mothers and newborns need 24 hours a day.

Since 2012, our Global Health Unit has issued grants to renovate 24 United Methodist health facilities in Sierra Leone, Liberia, DRC, Zimbabwe, and Cote d'Ivoire. In some places where our grants have revitalized medical facilities, patient visits have increased 10-fold! People who once put off care they needed are now getting it, and that's helping to save lives.

From a letter by Dr. Olusimbo Ige, Director of Global Health, General Board of Global Ministries

Monday, December 7, 2015

From Bishop Park: On Violence and Christmas

Bishop's Letter Header

December 4, 2015

"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel - which means, 'God with us.'"
(Matthew 1:23)

"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be
for all people."
(Luke 2:10)

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Another horrible tragedy has struck us. Too many are dying and hurting yet again because of acts of violence, terror, and hatred. Our hearts go out to the families and the loved ones of the innocent victims of the diabolic attacks in San Bernardino, California this past Wednesday. As our hearts are broken, they are in our prayers as we share their shock, pain and suffering.

There is so much about the Christmas story that parallels the brokenness and despair of our world. We read some familiar scriptures in the season of Advent and realize that these readings carry within them much of the very same fears and pains that are evident and prevalent in the world today. The names are different, some of the places have changed; but the anguish and struggles are just as real.  No sooner was Jesus born that we read of the attempt by Herod to kill him.  Joseph takes Jesus and Mary to Egypt seeking refuge. However, every other male child two years of age or younger in Bethlehem was slaughtered.

Come, Come, Emmanuel

Friday, December 4, 2015

Beyond Bethlehem

Beyond Bethlehem from Global Ministries on Vimeo.

Friends of mine, serving with an evangelical mission organization, report that the total refugee population in the world, if reckoned as a single nation, would be the fifth largest in the world.

Signs (1): What Are You Waiting For?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Spiritual, but not Religious?

A common phrase used in recent years to describe some people is “spiritual but not religious.” It sounds good and believable given our modern individualistic tendencies and self focus. In a sense, it was a bit comforting to think that those who no longer attend church or practice their religion publicly are still personally spiritual and attuned to the things of God. The story line became that religion was in decline while spirituality was increasing.
Well, it turns out that this new “spiritual but not religious” category may be a bit too clever to survive investigation. Nancy T. Ammerman, the highly regarded sociologist of religion, has completed a major research project focused on a cross section of the U.S. population that matches the religious make up of the nation. 

Using in-depth interviews over a period of time, the project sought to understand the spiritual lives of people through the stories they tell about their everyday lives.

It turns out that this divide between personal spirituality and organized religious expression does not exist in the findings.... Read the full article by Lovett Weems Jr., one of Pastor JP's professors in his DMin program.

Consecration Sunday worship

Sally presents the Friendship Circle gift, Pastor JP shares with the children, and our guest speaker (Mike Bealla) speaks during the Open Table worship service Sunday evening.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mission Central story

The building we know as Mission Central is a warehouse.  Many ministries are housed in that building. One of the Ministries is the Computer Ministry, which began in 2002.  Their purpose statement is: “Reusing technology in support of God’s people in a digital world.”  The Computer Ministry collects computers and computer equipment and refurbishes it, then donates the equipment to non-profit ministries and organizations.  They also send unused computers, parts, cables and equipment to be recycled.
Computer ministry is not only housed in the Mission Central warehouse, but works in cooperation with and support of the Mission Central ministries.  Deb Harden, former Executive Secretary at Mission Central, writes, “Computer Ministry is always willing to help us when we have a financial need—being a sponsor for events like the Gala, helping us with funds to replace the parking lot pole light fixtures, purchasing shrink wrap in bulk, vacuum cleaners for the office and a pallet of salt for snow removal.”
Computer Ministry experiences many God Moments in the course of their work.  Bob Shreiner, Computer Ministry Executive Director, says that the first “God Moment” I can remember was when somebody came in, looking for four Pentium 4 computers, which were the newest you could buy at the time.  We told the person who had requested them that it might be some time until we would get this type of computer, but we would let them know when we received some.  About two hours later, someone came in and gave us four Pentium 4 computers.
This was just one of many ways God has helped the Computer Ministry serve others.
PRAYER: Creator God, thank You for the opportunities You give us to work together to carry out Your work in the world.  Thank You for the work of the Computer Ministry and the many ways they use technology to enhance the life and work of others.  Thank You for blessing us and for allowing us to share our blessings with others.  AMEN.

Time Line - 60th birthday

Thanks to Suzanne and her team for putting together the story of Christ Church from the vote to merge in November 1955.