From the Pastor January 2015
I want to invite you to ask yourself, "What are my hopes and goals for this new year? What am I expecting over these next 12 months?" My hope is that as you ponder this question, your answer is not "just more of the same." We only have so much life to live, and my sense from reading the scriptures is that God wants us to invest our time wisely, so that we are continually growing as people and as servants of God.
Not only that, but I believe that God stands ready to help us along, and that with Christ's promise to never leave us or forsake us, we have every reason to expect great things from ourselves and for ourselves. I have always been struck by Paul's description of God in Ephesians 3:20: he describes God as being the One who is "able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine," "by the power at work within us." This is our invitation to dream big and aim high, knowing that our longings and efforts at growing as people are more than matched by God's efforts within us and on our behalf.
I don't want to sound as if I believe there will not be bumps along the road, or that the trajec- tory of our spiritual lives will always be on a steady incline. Nor do I believe that this means that nothing bad will happen to us in our lives. I only mean that it is reasonable for us to expect and aim for ongoing growth and abundant spiritual fruit in our lives.
For that reason, I am expecting great things in 2015, for myself, for you, and for our church as a whole. I don't know what form it will take or what it will look like, but I believe that 2015 has the potential to be a year of incredible blessing for our church and for you and me. That is my prayer as we enter this new year. I hope you will join me!
Grace and peace, Pastor Tom
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all genera- tions, forever and ever. Amen.
P.S. Wendy and I would like to thank our church family for their generous gifts, cards, and other expressions of good wishes during the Christmas season. We are so glad to be a part of this great church!
From the Pastor December 2014
Are you familiar with the "Advent Conspiracy"? It all began in 2006, when five pastors imagined a better Christmas practice for their own communities. Today, Advent Conspiracy is a global movement of people and churches conspiring together to resist the cultural Christ- mas narrative of consumption, and regain the revolutionary meaning of Christmas. While we at FUMC will not be formally participating in this program, at least not this December, there are some concepts upon which this program is based that we might want to consider as we once again face the onslaught of the Christmas machine that is already in full gear.
As the Advent Conspiracy website puts it, "The Christmas story is a story of love, hope, re- demption and relationship. So, what happened? How did it turn into stuff, stress and debt? Somehow, we've traded the best story in the world for the story of what's on sale." In order to counter this captivity to consumerism, the Advent Conspiracy suggest these four revolu- tionary strategies for connecting with Christmas in a more meaningful way. They are:
We tend to forget that Christmas is, first and foremost, a time of awe and wonder as we contemplate again the powerful message of God's invasion of planet earth in the form of the Christ Child
The average American family spends about $800 a year on Christmas gifts. We're not talking about cutting out gift-giving altogether, but scaling back—maybe one less gift to each member of our immediate family.
While it might seem a contradiction to say, "spend less" right after we are en- couraged to spend less, but what the Advent Conspiracy folks mean is that we are invited to replace some of the material gifts we give our family and friends with the gifts of our time— going sledding, making cookies, or having a family Christmas carol sing.
Having scaled back our spending, why not take some or all of the money we would have spent and give it to organizations that feed the hungry and encourage development. Our family has developed a tradition where one of the gifts we exchange is a group donation to the Heifer Project. Find a way to spread the love that came down at Christmas far and wide.
I invite you to join the Advent Conspiracy this year!
Grace and peace, Pastor Tom
With the fall comes the usual bustle of church activities, many of which you will be able to read about in this month's Traveler. Please allow me to use my space to promote two learning opportunities I hope you will be able to take advantage of.
Starting this month, I will be offering two studies that I am very excited about. The first of these studies is called Confronting the Controversies. As the title implies, this study will help us explore some of the tough issues facing our world, our nation, and our church. This seven session group study is based on the book of the same name by noted UM pastor Adam Hamilton, and utilizes a video segment featur-ing Rev. Hamilton as part of each session. The seven sessions are:
1 – The Separation of Church and State
2 – Creation and Evolution in the Public Schools
3 – The Death Penalty
4 – Euthanasia
5 – Prayer in Public Schools
6 – Abortion
7 – Homosexuality
In the words of Lovett Weems, "Adam Hamilton faces difficult issues forthrightly, presents oppos-ing positions understandingly, and offers his own opinions with compassion and humility. Class sessions will take place from 9:00 until 10:30 on Saturday mornings, starting September 13. While there is no cost for participating in the group, we are asking those who are able to make a $10 donation to defray the cost of study materials.
The second learning opportunity that starts this month is part of our ongoing "Exploring the Bible" classes, "Introduction to the New Testament." We have had a great response to the previous two classes, "What is the Bible, " and "Introduction to the Old Testament." The written materials for the class are written by Anne Robertson, a United Methodist clergywoman who served local churches in Flor-ida, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts before becoming the Executive Director of the historic Massa-chusetts Bible Society in 2007. Previous participants have expressed their appreciation for Anne's witty, accessible, and thought-provoking writing style. The materials and topics do not assume any prior knowledge of the Bible, so this is a great opportunity for those who have not studied the New Testament previously.
As we have done with the previous sessions of the Exploring the Bible series, we will again be of-fering two groups for "Introduction to the New Testament," one on Tuesday evenings from 7:00-8:30, beginning on September 23, and one on Wednesday afternoons from 1:00-2:30, starting on September 24. Each group will meet weekly for six weeks. We are asking those who are able to make a $15 dona-tion to help pay for materials.
If you are interested in participating in either or both of these study groups, please sign up in fel-lowship hall or call the church office at 524-3289.
I hope to see many of you in class!
Grace and peace,
It has been my honor and privilege to serve as your pastor over these past 14 months. For most of these first months, I have been primarily in what I would call "listen, observe, and learn" mode as I have sought to get a "handle" on the unique characteristics of FUMC and the surrounding community.
What have I learned? I have learned that we have a wonderful church full of committed follow- ers of Jesus, many of whom are engaged in vital, life-changing ministry both within our church and out in the community. I have learned that we are a church full of gifted, talented folks with all sorts of wisdom and experience. I have also learned that we face some challenges as we look to the present and future of our church, and that those challenges must be faced if we are going to continue to be a vital presence for Christ in our community.
As time has gone by, some ideas that I believe can offer our church a map for our future have be- gun to gel in my heart and mind. Over the past few months, I have shared some of these ideas with our Administrative Council, and with their encouragement (along with some helpful questions and feed- back), am now prepared to share them with the congregation as a whole.
For that reason, I will be conducting a series of congregational meetings in order to share my pro- posals for our church's overall direction. The times of these meetings are as follows:
After worship on Sunday October 12 7:00 on Wednesday, October 22 2:00 on Thursday, October 23
7:00 on Thursday October 23
After worship on Sunday, October 26
The reason for holding multiple meetings is two fold. First, it is hoped that by offering several meetings at various times and dates, that everyone who wishes to will be able to attend a meeting. Sec- ond, assuming that these meetings will be somewhat evenly attended, multiple meetings will allow a small enough group of folks to enable time for questions, responses, and lively conversation. Each meet- ing will present the same information in more or less the same format, so there is no need for you to at- tend any more than one meeting, although you are welcome to do so if you wish.
There may well be additional steps taken to get this information out to the congregation as a whole and provide forums for further exploration, discussion, and refinements. My hope and expecta- tion is that this unfolding process will lead us to a vote on a concrete proposal at our annual church con- ference, which is taking place on November 30, and about which you will be hearing more in the weeks to come. Needless to say, these information meetings are very important to the future of our church, and I hope all of our members and friends will make every effort to attend whichever one is most con- venient for you.
Grace and peace, Pastor Tom
June has traditionally been the month for graduations. And of course, with graduation comes the big question of "What next?" We pepper our graduates with all sorts of questions: "What will you be doing next fall?" "Have you got a job lined up?" "Where do you go from here?"
But it isn't just graduates that need to answer those sorts of questions. I want to invite you to take some time to ask yourself "What next?" "What is the next step in my spiritual journey that God is inviting me to take?" Like our graduates, those of us who are on a spiritual journey (and really, aren't we all, even if we are not aware of it?) are meant to take all that we have learned and experienced and make a life with it. We are supposed to be going somewhere, deeper and deeper into a life of committed discipleship and service to Christ and the world. Yet I have en- countered folks who, even thought they have been going to church their whole lives are still in first grade spiritually, or so it seems.
Of course, in the Christian life, what is important is not where we are, but where we are going. So, then, back to the questions: "What is the next step in my spiritual journey that God is invit- ing me to take?" "From what and to what am I supposed to be graduating in my commitment to follow Jesus?" Each step along the journey, there are new opportunities and challenges. You may find that the next step for you is to really work at forgiving someone that you have been un- able to forgive until now. Or it may be that you need to step out in faith and make that voca- tional change that you have been longing to make, but that you have been too afraid to risk do- ing so until now. Or, for some, the question may be, "now that I am retired, what do I want to do with some of my freed-up time that truly expresses my love for Christ and for the world?"
Followers of Jesus, it is time to graduate, and to move out of our comfort zone into new, exciting, and challenging levels of discipleship. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, "this one thing I do: forget- ting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)
Grace and peace,
Office Hours: Pastor Tom is normally in his office from 10:00—12:00 Tuesday through Thurs- day. Please feel free to drop in during those times if there is anything you would like to talk with him about. He is also available by appointment, which can be arranged by calling him at 769-0770.