Tuesday, February 2, 2016

2015 Year of Extravagant Giving

Dear Friends,

2015 was certainly The Year of Extravagant Generosity in our church!  For the first time in our treasurer Mike Nissly’s memory, we were in the black the entire year.  We came to the end of 2015 with a small cushion to carry into 2016.  The health of the general fund does not include additional giving for new air conditioners in the sanctuary and updated lights in the sanctuary and Garden Room.

The generous and gracious giving to the general fund covers the costs of maintaining buildings and grounds, resources for ministries such as worship and Christian education, and, of course, staff.  The general fund also includes money given to mission through our apportionments, meaning “a portion meant for others.”  Our apportionment giving is part of our connectional system with other United Methodist Churches in our state and beyond.  Other than some administrative funds set aside for missions, the general fund does not include what we as an individual church give for mission in our church and community, state and country and internationally.
This is what was given to missions through our church in 2015

:Women at the Well (UMC in the Mitchellville prison) $250.00

Jubilee United Methodist Church Waterloo(for free medical clinic) $624.00

Bidwell-Riverside $400.00

Trinity UMC Des Moines(for children’s afterschool program) $500.00

Ingathering Cash $27.00, In Kind$134.00

Heifer International $3093.55

Wednesday Community Meal Cash Donations $16,591.42and In Kind $833

MICA $500.00 and In Kind $370.00

Christmas Angel project In Kind $1500.00

Greenbelt Home Care In Kind $208.00

Imagine No Malaria $10.00

Undesignated donation UMCOR project $10.00

Disaster Response International $240.00

Disaster Response US $60.00

Living Gifts Heifer International $600.00

One Great Hour of Sharing $724.00

Peace with Justice Sunday $25.00

World Communion Sunday $75.00

Builders Call $50.00

Iowa Falls Ministerial Association $5441.29

Over $32,000 was given to missions through our church in addition to supporting the ministries of our church and in addition to the stewardship of our buildings and grounds.  Approximately 30% of our giving in 2015 went to missions.  In other words, we not only tithed (10%), we gave a tithe plus an offering.  Extravagant generosity indeed!

I thank God for you and your commitment to Christ lived out through our church.  I am grateful to Diane Love and Regina Harrison for their leadership as Going Sphere chairs.  I am truly stunned by your generosity and am humbled to be your pastor.  Well done, good and faithful servants of Christ.

On the journey with you,


A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the last weekend before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 10).  The Gospel reading is from St. Luke and connects both to the Epiphany and to the approaching season of Lent.  This bridge is called the Transfiguration of our Lord.  It is the story of a vision which has Jesus looking changed and talking with Moses and Elijah on a mountain.  After this event and the seeming confusion of Peter, James, and John, Jesus these three disciples head down the mountainside and Jesus starts his walk toward Jerusalem and crucifixion.
This is an intentionally mysterious event, especially as it is saturated with images of Israel’s salvation story.  There could be multiple interpretations of this vision, perhaps all of them bringing light to the true identity of Jesus.  There are, however, some aspects to this story which seem especially significant to me.
First—As our Lord was changed and transfigured, so are we to be who claim to follow him on the way of God.  Second—This transformation was quickly shown for Jesus.  For those of us who follow, the transformation takes our entire life.   Third—Our transfiguration is from mostly caring about ourselves to mostly caring about God’s world.  Fourth—That transformation happens as we heed the Divine words to “listen to” Jesus.  Fifth—God’s glory (that is Presence) was the shining quality to Jesus’ appearance.  Sixth—We (the Church) are to be God’s glory (Presence) on earth, both personally as well as corporately.  Seventh—This is neither fast nor easy.  Why?
The Gospel reading this weekend ends with the reporting of Jesus performing an exorcism—the rebuking of a demon.  The story starts on the day Jesus and company descend the mountain of Transfiguration; they are met by a crowd and a man begs for help for his son.  One of the ways the condition of the son is described is “a spirit…mauls him and will scarcely leave him” (Luke 9:39 nrsv).  Jesus is told that the disciples tried to help but to no avail.  However, Jesus did heal the man’s son.

The “Why?” question of the previous paragraph is that the disciples are us—the followers of Jesus now.  We see the needs of those who are oppressed, poor, captivated, and or blind and seem to do so little to actually  help.  Perhaps like the boy, we, too, are mauled by life—by the trials, temptations, and general tedium of life.  We become people with less faith and more despair; despairing from being unable to bring the glory of God to those in great need.  Jesus’ disciples back then couldn’t do it, but they grew over the course of the story of Jesus and his church (Luke Acts).  It clearly took time and was difficult to do.  John’s Gospel tells us that many forsook Jesus.  We know our own struggles today.

Yet, I believe that the story tells us that if we follow Jesus, we will be changed; changed by listening to Jesus, changed by trusting, changed by love into the Glory of God’s presence on earth.  That is what the story tells me.
Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Mid-Weel Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Several of you have asked for the link to the article that I referenced last weekend:

In the article, ISU sociologist Paul Lasley’s work is shared. Lasley links our love of neighbor and the glue that holds us together as Iowans with, at least in part, church participation. As rural churches disappear across Iowa and participation in churches decreases, we are losing the glue that connects us. We are forgetting how to be neighbors. This results in a society that is more isolated, more frightened and more reactionary. Isolation, fear and lashing out are not God’s definition of abundant life.

God’s prescription is the Holy Spirit glue that holds Christians together, creating the Body of Christ, the church. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul reminds us that each of us is an important and essential member of the Body. Each of us has spiritual gifts that the church needs to function at its best. Without your participation, our church just limps along. Each of us needs the church to discover our gifts for ministry and to learn what it means to stay connected despite our diversity. It is in the church that we learn to move beyond love for family and friends to love of neighbor and even enemy (see Luke 6). For the sake of abundant life, we walk together as the Body of Christ. We bear one another’s burdens. We celebrate together. We are shaped and formed into the people, and the church, God has created us to be.

But this Body doesn’t just flail around or head off in any old direction. The Body of Christ continues Jesus’ mission; the mission statement that Jesus shares in Luke 4:1-12. We proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind and let the oppressed go free. We are the Body of Christ, set loose in the world, caring for the least of these in Jesus’ name. Like Jesus, we notice those who do not have abundant life, and for the sake of life, we walk together.

On Sunday, I was deeply moved to hear during prayer the names of people you give thanks for walking with you. I was also touched to hear you name the people God is calling us to walk with as the Body of Christ. I am so very grateful to walk with you, the people of First United Methodist Church. May God send us the people no one else wants, knowing that we have the courage to walk with them toward healing and new life.

On the journey with you,

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Lent begins a little early this year (February 10), the season connected to the Light of Epiphany has two weekends left to help us “see the light.”  This week’s readings are all powerful readings.  From the Hebrew Bible the prophet Jeremiah brings a message of his call to the role of a prophet.  Perhaps one great aspect of this call to Jeremiah is God’s presence with Jeremiah through what we know will be a difficult ministry of prophecy.
The Epistle reading brings a very familiar reading (especially for those who have been to weddings):  1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter.”  While this passage from St. Paul is frequently read at weddings as a suggestion about human love in marriage, I think that is a misreading or at least a missing what the  real love is to which Paul writes.  This chapter, I believe, tells us the nature of God’s love toward us and then, by context, invites us to work to emulate that love toward one another.  In context, Paul has just described how we of the Church are to relate to each other, using the metaphor of the human body and its various parts.  He concludes chapter 12 by writing “and I will show you a still more excellent way” (12:31b).  That is the way of God’s love.  By reading such a passage at weddings, the bar is set very high—a height worth straining toward all one’s life.  If we accept the idea that God is love (1 John 4:8b), then reading Paul’s hymn of love, chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, we can substitute the word “God” each time for the word “love,”  I think we get closer to the truth.  That’s why the bar is so high—this passage reflects God’s steadfastness toward us.
The Gospel reading this weekend concludes the story of Jesus’ visit home to preach.  Suffice it to say, things took a decidedly human turn.  This week’s passage from Jeremiah seems to point the way of the prophet that Jesus follows as he tells the hometown crowds of God’s love and faithfulness to all people who hear and respond to god.  Yet humans have a long way to go before we “see” God’s love for the world.  And what is love for Christians?  I believe it is a set of the will for the benefit of the other.  God’s grace and Spirit are the transforming agents for us as we seek the “more excellent way.”

                                                                                                Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A MId-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,
As many of you remember, we were in prayerful conversation about God’s vision for our church for almost three years. The vision that God has given our church is, in short, “We gather, grow and go for the glory of God.” (Actually, we also “glow” to the glory of God but that one is a little harder to measure!) In other words, you could say that God’s vision for our church is to gather for worship, grow in small groups and go forth in mission. Note that those are all action words. Also note that this vision becomes a reality as each person gathers in worship, grows in a small group and goes forth in mission. Each person impacts how well or how poorly we, as a church, live into the vision God has given us.

But you and I don’t gather, grow and go on our own power. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12, each person who can say that Jesus as Lord has received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Each person who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit has spiritual gifts, given for the common good and for the unity of the church. Each person is important. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God has placed each person in the church. Each person has gifts the church needs. Each person needs the church in order to discover their gifts and the ministry that God calls them to engage.

Our vision statement reminds us that we do what we do for the glory of God. Glory literally means “the presence of God.” When people are gathering for worship, God is present. When people grow in small groups with trust and vulnerability, God is present. When people go forth in ministry, working together, God is present. God’s presence isn’t just something that we who have eyes to see notice. God is present in ways that become evident to those outside the church as well. God’s glory, God’s presence, is how God blesses others in our church and our community in and through us.
“Glowing” is evidence of a church on fire with the Holy Spirit. Certainly a church on Holy Spirit fire glorifies God and reveals God’s presence. It is true that as people gather in worship, grow in small groups and go forth in mission, embers of faith are fanned and glow more brightly. Our ability to be united in our diversity is strengthened. In Matthew 18, we are taught how to handle disagreements in the church. Jesus ends his teaching by telling us that when two or three people who have experienced conflict come together, he is in their midst. Conflict happens and can be a catalyst for growth and change. Conflict handled with respect for all involved glorifies God. In fact, in such a situation, Jesus promises his presence!
You are an essential, important member of our church, the Body of Christ. How are you using your spiritual gifts to strengthen the church? What next step is God nudging you to take on this journey of faith?
On the journey with you,

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This weekend’s Gospel reading is an incident which takes place in Jesus’ home synagogue (church) in Nazareth.  What we read is a slice, though small, of worship in Jesus’ time.  The very beginning of the passage says two important things:  1) Jesus seems to be infused with the power of the Holy Spirit; 2) His ministry of teaching to the area about the Kingdom of God is going well, “He…was praised by everyone” (v. 15).
Now Jesus heads for home.  We don’t know why.  He just does.  He goes to synagogue and, as a visiting (and honored?) teacher, he is invited to be a leader in worship.  He assents and is given a scroll.  My assumption is that Jesus did not choose this scroll, rather it was just the reading for the day.  The reading was from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 61:1-2.
Luke’s story about this incident is telling.  What it tells is that Jesus understands himself, indeed identifies himself with this passage.  The passage says that the prophet-servant is anointed with the Spirit of the Lord.  The purpose of the anointing was to preach God’s kingdom (i.e. good news) to the poor, to proclaim or announce release, recovery and liberation to the most vulnerable of Israelites—the poor, the prisoner (of Rome?), the blind, and the oppressed.  These conditions undoubtedly touched, in some way, everyone in the synagogue.
Then Jesus gave back the scroll and sat down which is the traditional Jewish position for formal teaching.  He tells them that what he just read is happening right then, just as they heard it.  The passage for us this weekend stops at this point.
There are intriguing questions here.  One wonders why Jesus stopped the reading where he did.  If you look at Isaiah 61, there was much  more to read.  Why stop there?  Maybe because the next passage talks about proclaiming God’s vengeance and Jesus chose against that as part of the Good News?  We don’t know.  What we do know is that he understood himself at least as a servant-prophet of God’s kingdom and God’s Holy Spirit enabled him to endure a prophet’s fate.
                                                            Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Seven Things to Say to Guests

One of the more common questions I'm asked relates to growth barriers. For example, church leaders may want to know how to move past the 150-attendance level of the past five years. Or other leaders desire to know how to break though financial giving barriers.
Those questions are tough because they often presume a brief response to be adequate. In reality, there are many theological and methodological issues at work in growth barriers. Today, I am looking at a very basic barrier: lack of friendliness to church guests.
I In today's post I look at the positive perspective: seven things we should say to guests.
1. "Thank you for being here." It's just that basic. I have heard from numerous church guests who returned because they were simply told "thank you."
2. "Let me help you with that." If you see someone struggling with umbrellas, young children, diaper bags, purses and other items, a gesture to hold something for them is a huge positive. Of course, this comment is appropriate for member to member as well.
3. "Please take my seat." I actually heard that comment twice in a church where I was speaking in the Nashville area. The first comment came from a member to a young family of five who were trying to find a place to sit together.
4. "Here is my email address. Please let me know if I can help in any way." Of course, this comment must be used with discretion, but it can be a hugely positive message to a guest.
5. "Can I show you where you need to go?" Even in smaller churches, guests will not know where to find the nursery, restrooms and small group meeting areas. You can usually tell when a guest does not know where he or she is to go.
6. "Let me introduce you to ___________." The return rate of guests is always higher if they meet other people. A church member may have the opportunity to introduce the guest to the pastor, other church staff and other members of the church.
7. "Would you join us for lunch?" I saved this question for last for two reasons. First, the situation must obviously be appropriate before you offer the invitation. Second, I have seen this approach have the highest guest return rate of any one factor. What if your church members sought to invite different guests 6 to 12 times a year? The burden would not be great; but the impact would be huge.
Let's look at one example of breaking attendance barriers by saying the right things to guests. Presume your church has two first-time guests a week. Over the course of a year, the church would have 100 first-time guests. With most of the members being genuinely guest friendly, you could see half of those guests become active members. Attendance could thus increase by as much as 50 persons every year.
Good interaction with guests is a huge step toward breaking attendance barriers, but it is obviously not the only step. 
Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources.