Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Go Tell John

Hope for the Weary in Japan

UMPIG-Julian Christmas gathering
By Devorah Umpig-Julian
But when you give a banquet or a reception, invite the poor, the disabled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (the just, the upright). - John 14:13-14 (The Amplified Bible)

Over the past year, I’ve been praying for some new directions in my personal walk with God. For months, as I engaged in my regular routines, I felt a vague restlessness, coupled with the disturbing question, “Why is life so monotonous?” No matter what I tried, I always felt like something was missing, and eventually it felt like I had nothing more to give. Loudly and often I voiced this to the Lord.
God, with a divine sense of humor, responded by shaking things up and helping me engage in a new way. At times, I look up, smile and say: “I know that was you, God! Thank you!”
When I asked God to open new directions for me, God literally changed my location, and our family had to move. I had no idea God would be so wonderfully radical or so kindly ruthless.
Weeks after we moved, hunger for God’s word became my classroom as God began changing more of the inner world of my heart. I shared these experiences with friends and others for encouragement.
God puts new people in my life because I have a role to play in theirs. Take, for example Jai*, a 36-year-old single lady and rookie graduate student from Vietnam. She has no relatives in Japan and she felt isolated. Student life was tough on her. In fact, she contemplated suicide. She planned to overdose with medicines, but God had other plans for Jai. When she went to the pharmacy to buy drugs, the pharmacy was closed!
A friend invited her to come to our house for Christmas fellowship. That night, she heard the biblical story of Christmas for the first time. She listened to our songs, prayers and sharing and enjoyed the food. She met new friends. Little did she know that God was speaking to her already.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Bishop visits remote areas of Congo

People in the village of Samba, Congo, line the streets to welcome East Congo Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda, who spent 10 days in late September and early October visiting all seven districts in the remote East Congo Conference. It was the first time many United Methodists in the area had ever seen a bishop. Photo by Judith Osongo Yanga, UM News.
People in the village of Samba, Congo, line the streets to welcome East Congo Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda, who spent 10 days in late September and early October visiting all seven districts in the remote East Congo Conference. It was the first time many United Methodists in the area had ever seen a bishop. Photo by Judith Osongo Yanga, UM News.
By Judith Osongo Yanga
Dec. 13, 2019 | TUNDA, Congo (UM News)
United Methodist Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda made his first trip to the most remote areas in the East Congo Conference to spread the word of God and see first-hand the “rural realities” facing United Methodists.
It was also the first time many United Methodists in the area had ever seen a bishop.
The East Congo Episcopal Area, which includes three annual conferences, is blanketed by forests. Access to some villages and cities is difficult, with many roads impassable.
With seven districts, the East Congo Conference covers a vast area with more than 340,000 United Methodists living there.
Unda said his visit to every district in the conference is a way of experiencing the realities of the area and evangelizing to the thousands of people living in these parts.
“As a pastor, I want to meet people of God who live there. I receive several reports from the pastors who come to the annual conference meetings who tell me about the difficulties they encounter in reaching the conference venue. (They talk about) the difficulties their women experience during childbirth due to lack of health facilities; difficulties related to the education of young children for lack of a school built of durable materials; and in the end, the inaccessibility of these places and the bad conditions of the roads.
“That’s why I decided as pastor and in my episcopal duties as a bishop to go out of my office to experience these rural realities,” he said.
In the course of his nearly 10-day journey, Unda took the opportunity to dedicate more than 10 churches built with the help of United Methodist partnerships and local contributions.
Unda said he needed to see the people and places with his own eyes.
“My eyes flow with tears when I see the people of God thirsty to see and receive their leaders. … Despite the state of the road, I asked God for strength and energy … I had to spend the night with all my delegation, even in the middle of the forest, as long as we knew where God sent us.”

Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground)


Sunday, December 29, 2019

He Rules the World: A Celebration of Peace (2019-1222)

21-22 Dec 2019, Christ Mountain Top
Praying the Scripture, Psalm 80
Advent Wreath, from Isaiah 7.10-16
       used at 6 pm for praying the Scripture
Children, Matthew 1.18-25 (Joseph and Mary)
Message, Luke 1.67-79 (Canticle of Simeon)
Mission Moment, two widows connect (Mission Central)

Years ago, I played in a men’s over-30 indoor soccer league. The artificial turf was very fast and, because we played with walls like hockey, the ball never went out of bounds and play never stopped. Our team was the class of the league and I got some of my best coaching ever from Victor Torres, our captain and player-coach. He taught me individual technique, respect of my limitations, and a more sophisticated offensive and defensive philosophy.
       Because we were the class of the league, we had a target on our back. Every opponent showed up in numbers, showed up pumped up, ready to take us down. One game, we were facing one of these rivals and we ended up short handed. We had to play an entire hour down a man in a very fast paced environment against a team that had two full lines to throw at us. How would we hold up?
       We had Victor, and he was in charge. He explained our modified team shape, gave us all our assignments, and put me at point for high pressure and the outlet pass. It wasn’t my job to score, despite my position on the field, just to get the ball, hold it a moment, and play it back to a teammate before pressing and forcing an opening in their defense.
       I was never worried about the outcome, because Victor was in charge. I was actually excited to see what he would cook up, what tactics he would employ to break them down. And, boy, did we.
       Frankly, there’s not much at stake in a moment like that. But it is nice to face adversity with peace in your heart. As we celebrate the gift of peace today, we are reminded that the peace of God comes to those who trust.

When Robin and I have faced our most difficult struggles, we have found that place of trust and peace holding each other in bed and talking. We’ve spent hours talking through Jesse’s mental health struggles, various parenting challenges, and how to meet and take the big risks in our calling like Robin heading off to Lesotho (in Africa) for six weeks of HIV-AIDS work while the kids were little tykes, the call to start a church from scratch, the call to move to Mountain Top at great personal cost. We spent hours laying there talking through STUFF, our talk a prayer, both physically and emotionally putting our trust in each other and in the God who brought us together, and as we trusted finding peace. We participate in peace by means of faith – our TRUST in another.

Maize's last day

So blessed to have Maize with us. She has now gone on to additional training with Seeing Eye.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve

Family Service, 7 pm
with Children's Musical and Candlelight

Reflections Service, 11 pm
with the Lord's Table and Candlelight
Pre-service concert at 10:30 pm

Monday, December 23, 2019

His Blessings Flow: A Celebration of Joy

14-15 Dec 2019, Christ Mountain Top
Praying the Scripture, Psalm 146
Advent Wreath, from Isaiah 35.1-10
       used at 6 pm for praying the Scripture
Children, Matthew 11.2-11 (Jesus and John)
Message, Luke 1.46-56 (Magnificat)

Today, as we continue to work our way through the 300th anniversary of “Joy to the World,” we celebrate joy as we come to this third verse:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.
This third verse is not always printed in North America. We use a different tune than is typically used in Europe, that gives us an upbeat repetition of the last line of each verse. “Far as, far as the curse is found.” Woo-hoo! What?! But as people of God, we celebrate Joy in the context of Curse.

Ever felt cursed? No matter how hard you work or how effective you are, you get laid off. No matter how thoughtful and loving you are, you end up divorced. No matter how faithful you are to the process you are given, no matter your perfect attendance, no matter the extra credit, you get a failing grade. “Bad things come in threes…. And I’m on my third set of threes.” (Actually, I don’t believe bad things come in threes. But if you wait long enough, anything comes in threes.) Nevertheless, there are some folks for whom the saying seems true: “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.” Sometimes it seems that there really is something wrong with the world, because it can’t be all us, right! Surely it’s not all our fault!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Decoration Day

Our Songs Employ, a Celebration of Love

7-8 Dec 2019, Christ Mountain Top
Praying the Scripture, Psalm 72.1-6
Advent Wreath, from Isaiah 11.1-9
       used at 6 pm for praying the Scripture
Children, Matthew 3.1-12
Message, Luke 1.39-46

       Yes, this puppy is the BEST dog in the world, EVER.
       And it’s no contest.
       She loves to fetch, and the frisbee is one of the all-time favorites. When I don’t overthrow it, she leaps up and catches it on the run. One time, she was on a dead run, ahead of the throw, and I threw it on a line just over her head. She turned her head and caught it.
       Now, an achievement like that is deserving of praise, with real enthusiasm. Woo-hoo! That’s my puppy! Good girl, Zoe!

       Stole my car, spent time in jail, knocked mom down
       That last one was scary, not acceptable, over-the-line
       So, Dad took him to the Y, rented a room for $25/week, and checked on him a LOT
       Danny was always welcome in my parents’ home, he just wasn’t welcome to be violent. The door was always open.
       Danny’s been through a lot. We talk pretty regularly. He spends holidays at my parents’. I love him.  In the words of Jacob to his brother Esau, to see Danny’s face is “like seeing the face of God.”

Sing We the Song of Emmanuel

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Friday, December 13, 2019

Jesus Remember Me

Prepare Him Room, a Celebration of Hope

Repeat the Sounding Joy #1
30 Nov – 1 Dec 2019, Christ Mountain Top
Advent Wreath, from Isaiah 2.1-5
       used at 6 pm for praying the Scripture
Children, Matthew 24.36-44
Message, Luke 1.26-38
Mission Moment, World AIDS Day,
       African chief leads HIV/AIDS fight

Three hundred years ago, the words of the hymn that we know as “Joy to the World,” were first published, as a paraphrase of Psalm 98 by English poet and pastor, Isaac Watts. The hymn, as we sing it today, incorporates Watts’ words with a tune from Lowell Mason, an American banker whose musical gifts were shared in his side job as organist at a Presbyterian church in Savannah, Georgia. Since Mason loved the music of George Frederic Handel, it’s no surprise that there are pieces of the tune reminiscent of that composer’s Messiah.  Three different lives, interwoven across oceans and decades, come together to bring the world one of its most beloved Advent and Christmas hymns. We say Advent and Christmas because, though the song is often sung as a Christmas carol, a closer look at its words shows as much focus on Christ’s return as on his birth – a perfect connection to the season we enter today.
       In a similar way, a prophecy from Isaiah, an announcement made to Mary, and an invitation that comes to us to “let every heart prepare him room,” weave together to offer a powerful message of hope for us and for our world today. (Leland)

What is remarkable about all this is that the word of hope comes in the larger context of judgment. Isaiah has just been writing of Israel as a donkey that has forgotten its manger, a prostitute who has forgotten her faithful lover. He calls Israel by an alternative name, a judgment name, “Sodom” and “Gomorrah.” He says that God hates their religious observances and that if they persist in their rebellion, they will be devoured by the sword (Isaiah 1).
       The traditional gospel reading paired with the text from Isaiah 2, which we shared with the kids, is from Matthew’s gospel, from Jesus’ sermon on the end of days and final judgment. When the Son of Man comes, he will come with judgment and come suddenly, and that suddenness will be like the great flood in the time of Noah or like a burglar who comes to take the best of what you have.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Talking Turkey

Thanks to everyone who made another turkey dinner a wonderful, hospitable success!

Christ the King

23-24 Nov 2019, Christ Mountain Top
Praying the Scripture, Psalm 23
Children, Luke 23.33-43 (crucifixion)
Message, Colossians 1.9-20, with Luke
Mission Moment, Student Day/offering

This section of Colossians is a prayer. The writer prays for the readers – that’s us – to be filled with spiritual insight, gifted with patience and joy, fruitful and powerful, wise and worthy. Then there is a transition. It is still prayer, but rather than prayer for us it is thanks to God for all that God has done for us and for all the glory of Jesus. It becomes poetic, more like a hymn, and it raises all kinds of theological questions that it doesn’t bother to answer. Because theology has to do with mystery. Because poetry is not about explanation.
       The Princess Bride: Let me explain. No, let me sum up. (Inigo)
       So, there is not much explaining to do, not much that I can do. I just have to join in the song, repeat the rhythm of the poetry, listen to the soaring language as it gives glory and thanks to God.

The Father “has qualified you for a share of the inheritance of the saints in light, … has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us* to the kingdom of the Son he loves[1].” And this Jesus sums up all things:
·       Jesus sums up God – image of the invisible God
·       Jesus sums up all creation – the firstborn of all creation
·       Jesus sums up all things – things in heaven and things on earth, things visible and things invisible, things that rule and things that obey
·       Jesus sums up the church – which is his body
·       Jesus sums up resurrection – the firstborn from the dead
·       Jesus sums up all things through his blood, by the cross

Monday, December 9, 2019

It's Good to Give Thanks

Mission Central Medical Ministry

Mission Central Medical Ministry

In 2009, the group Radiologists Without Borders, donated an MRI machine to Mission Central. We planned to hold it until a developing country could be identified that could accept it. 

Upon delivery, we learned of two rather large challenges -- The MRI unit needed a constant source of electricity, which became very costly and the incredible weight of the MRI made it nearly impossible for many countries to accept the donation because they didn’t have a sufficient road system to carry the weight or size.

In the fall of 2011, Central America had been devastated by storms and flooding. The Ambassador from Honduras came to Mission Central to see what relief supplies we might be able to provide. 

He was just amazed at the things he saw and what he learned as he toured the warehouse. At one point, he saw the MRI machine and inquired about it. We were more than happy to offer it to him…but how would we get it to Honduras?

A number of volunteers used various connections and we were able to find a local trucking company who volunteered to move it to Tampa, FL and even took care of all the permits and paperwork. Once in Tampa, the Honduran Ambassador was able to get it onto a Chiquita Banana boat, where it was transported to Honduras.

Honduras did not have a proper road system to handle something of this size. In fact there really was not even a highway system in place. A couple of years prior, they had commissioned their first “super highway" that ran from their main port, where the unit would be unloaded from the ship to the capital city, where the hospital was located. The ribbon cutting ceremony and grand opening of this highway had happened just a week before the unit left the Mission Central parking lot. 

Before leaving the parking lot, volunteers and staff at Mission Central gathered around the MRI unit. They prayed in both English and Spanish and everyone laid hands on the machine. Reports came back that upon arrival in Honduras, after all of that travel, the hand prints all around the machine were still visible.

Now, years later, the MRI machine is unbelievably helpful to the medical community in Honduras.

We see many "God Moments" like this. Many of them come from our medical ministry. Mission Central collects gently used medical devices and supplies for distribution to those that are in need.