Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The understanding of the Trinitarian nature of God has been a stumbling block since the Church, almost 2,000 years ago, perceived the relational nature of God.  This weekend the Church Universal moves toward Ordinary time, the part of the Christian calendar that does not surround a major Christological event such as Christmas or Easter.  The first weekend of that time frame is a recognition and celebration of the Holy Trinity.  Not all churches within Christendom ascribe to this perception of “three in one and one in three,” but the majority of Christian communions do, including ours.
It is appropriate to note that the Holy Trinity is a great and glorious mystery.  “Mystery” in this context does not mean a riddle or puzzle to be solved.  It means, rather, this is a perception to be experienced, not unlike the early Church grappled.  The primary problem for those who “dismiss” the Trinity is that God is understood as One, not two or three.  This is the Jewish context as well as the Islamic understanding, both using as source Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.”  To the consternation and delight of the early Church they cherished this idea but experienced Jesus the Christ as well as the Holy Spirit, both, as the presence of the One God in their midst.  How to understand this conflict so that all are satisfied?  The only answer, unacceptable as it is to many, is the word mystery.
So, this weekend we  recognize this mystery, celebrate its relational being within itself and within us, and trust the scriptural narrative that gives pictures throughout of our God who comes to us in unlimited forms, familiar to most as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Come, be a part of a 2,000-year mystery and worship the Godhead: three in one and one in three!
                                                            Pastor Jeff Blackman

A MId-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends, We Christians often say that our sins have been forgiven on the cross. The word forgive literally means to release from captivity. So what is it that holds you captive? In the season of Easter, we have been focusing on the freedom that is ours in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You already have the freedom to follow, to rise again, to love, to heal, to open and to be filled. The irony is that often we live our lives as if we don’t. It is as if we are imprisoned in fear or hopelessness or addictions. In Christ, the lock has been blown off and the prison door has swung wide. Yet still we cower, afraid to walk through the door and into new life. The captivity that is known seems preferable to the freedom that is unknown. What would your life look like if you no longer had to be afraid? If you couldn’t fail? If you truly claimed the truth that in Christ you have been released from all that holds you captive? You would look like the person that you have been created to be. You would be water-washed and Spirit-born. You would be you. On the journey with you,Carol

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Five Things the United Methodist Church is Doing Right

Five Things The United Methodist Church is Doing Right

by Marty Cauley
Frustrated with the Negativity!
If I read one more well intentioned article about what the church, particularly The United Methodist Church, is doing wrong I think I will scream. Yes, I know we are struggling with years of decline. I know our buildings are old, our polity is complicated, and we are not trend setting, wearing skinny jeans, and we don’t have many “rock star” preachers. So what. Garrison Keeler is fond of noting that
The United Methodist Church is not very good at “tooting its own horn.” So as a dedicated, often conflicted, sometimes frustrated, United Methodist I want to point out five (of the dozens and dozens) of things The United Methodist Church is doing right.
Reaching More People, More Diverse People, and More Young People
You may not know it but The United Methodist Church is starting more churches reaching more people, more diverse people, and more young people than almost any other denomination in the world. Most “church planting movements” are focused on spiritually displaced, middle class, Anglos filling their padded pew chairs with people from other churches. Thanks to the work of Path1 nationally, and the Office of New Faith Communities in my own North Carolina Conference, we are demonstrating a commitment to not only serve wealthy urban neighborhoods, but also struggling rural communities like Aulander and Winfall, NC. In addition to funding downtown, urban satellites, we are also seeking to reach minority communities, serve the growing Hispanic population, and create new places for second-life singles and young adults. In our own conference we have planted more than twenty churches in the last four years that represent the liturgical, theological, and cultural diversity of our communities.
Disaster Relief
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is one of the best kept secrets in United Methodism. This disaster relief agency provides immediate and long term disaster relief both domestically and internationally. It is usually one of the first organizations on the ground, thanks to the global nature of The United Methodist Church, and stays long after organizations like the Red Cross pack up their trailers and head home. They provide emergency food, water, and supplies, and then stick around to rebuild homes, communities and lives. Staffed by a skeleton crew but fueled by hundreds, even thousands, of dedicated part-time and full-time volunteers UMCOR teams are at the ready for disaster wherever it occurs. They serve tirelessly and faithfully, often under the media radar because their primary mission is recovery not self-promotion.
Embracing the Global Nature of the Church
The United Methodist Church is growing. It may not be growing in the US or in Europe, but globally The UMC is expanding at a rate in South America, Africa, and around the Pacific rim at a rate that we can barely keep up with. I have been impressed at the way that The General Conference has embraced the globalization of the church and attempted to insure that the voices of these emerging global United Methodists are heard loud and clear. God is at work within The United Methodist Church, and I believe that the global revival that is occurring will spur renewal within the areas where our church is in decline.
Having a Big Tent
If you live in a town with more than one United Methodist Church I can almost bet that one of them is one of the most progressive churches in your community, and the other is one of the most evangelical churches in your community. I believe the fact that our denomination provides room for theological tension is actually a strength, not a weakness. Too often we are too quick to try to solve problems with pronouncements and legislation, when what we really need is civil discourse and the ability to love each other and disagree with each other. Like every family we have crazy cousins, and calm peacemakers, but that is what being the family of God is all about.
Having Difficult Discussions
Lastly, The United Methodist Church is willing to have difficult discussions. Don’t get me wrong, there are people on every side of every issue that would much rather scream, yell, and throw rocks than enter into prayerful times of discernment and discussion. This is incredibly frustrating for those of us who struggle with maintaining our evangelical faith and our social witness. I am glad that I serve within a denomination that doesn’t expect everyone to follow divine pronouncements from on high made by a few, influential leaders. Instead we enter into difficult times of discussion where we pray, listen, debate, practice holy conferencing, and strive to listen to the voice of God. Having these difficult discussions actually allows us to discover the truth at much deeper levels.
We Are Not Perfect!
The United Methodist Church is far from perfect. There are people that I love dearly and disagree with completely. There are times wihen the idea of locking 2,000 people in a convention center and feeding them a high carb diet and expecting them to make good theological decisions seems ludicrous. In the end, I love The United Methodist Church, I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to help us overcome the “humanness” of our church and will guide us to continue to do all the good we can, in all the ways we can, wherever we can and to continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the corner and around the world. This is my church, this is my family, and I’m staying!
The original post can be found on Marty Cauley’s blog.photo-1The Rev. Dr. Marty Cauley, originally from Raleigh and currently the Director of Coaching and Content for the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. Before moving to Rocky Mount in summer 2009, he served the United Methodist Church as the Director for Ministries with Young People for the Southeastern Jurisdiction where he created, planned, and implemented spiritual formation events for thousands of middle and high school students from across the Southeast and beyond. Dr. Cauley holds the Doctor of Ministry, concentration in Church and Culture, from Columbia Theological Seminary; the Masters of Divinity from the Divinity School at Duke University; and the Bachelor of Science in Social Work from East Carolina University.

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the final weekend of Easter.  The Ascension of the Lord happened on May 5 and, now, we await the return of our Lord.  There are many ways to understand this idea of return.  The most common understanding is that Jesus will return in some bodily manner and bring God’s justice upon earth.  The extreme version of that idea in my mind is the idea of the rapture which strikes me as a violent and unjust picture of God’s justice—one that is antithetical to Jesus’ preaching and life.
Another picture of this return can be found in St. John’s Gospel.  It seems to me that in this picture Jesus returns in the presence of the resurrection in the power of the Spirit.  In the Gospel reading for this weekend (John 17:20-26), Jesus prays that we who follow Jesus can be one with each other and, as a result, with Jesus and God.  The return of our Lord brings unity and love among believers.  Could this be the sign of the return of our Lord, not in bodily form but rather in Spiritual power?  This may be a process much more important for our lives and faith and for believers of all times.
So, the Church has set a specific time to recognize the reception of the Holy Spirit:  50 days after the day of the resurrection of our Lord—what we name Pentecost.  That’s not the day it happens or even happened (May 8).  This day’s celebration recognizes that “it” happens all the time as people open themselves to the ministry performed by Jesus and his followers.  This weekend’s reading from Acts (16:16-34) is just such a description of the ministry of Jesus but performed by two of his followers, Paul and Silas, on the Way.  The reading from the Book of Revelation (22:12-21) reflects the completion of Jesus’ work for, as he says, he is “the Alpha and the Omega…the beginning and the end” (v. 13).
We await the return of our Lord.  While we wait we fulfill our calling to offer ministry to those in need as in Acts.  While we wait, we trust our Savior when he promises the Advocate to us to remind us and to show us the Way.  While we wait we trust that God’s way will be fulfilled and that, in faith and in answer to Jesus’ great prayer, we all will be one with each other in the power of the Holy Trinity.  May God’s peace be your peace.
                                                              Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

This weekend is the final weekend of the Easter season for this year.  The passage from the Gospel is again from St. John the Evangelist.  The story is the promise of the Holy Spirit for the believers.  The Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as the Advocate, or the Companion, or the Comforter.  Jesus says this Holy Spirit will be sent by God in Jesus’ name.  The purpose of the Spirit is to “teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you” John 14:26.

This 14th chapter of John is part of what is sometimes referred to as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse.  Last week Jesus tells the disciples he must go and they cannot go with him.  This is troubling for the disciples.  Peter promises to be resolute in staying with Jesus throughout the “crisis.”  Jesus tells him that he will not be able to do so.  Then, in chapter 14, Jesus says those words which are so familiar:  ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…” John 14:1-2ff.  Jesus is still trying to comfort and encourage them as the chapter continues.
Toward  the end of the chapter, Jesus returns to the new commandment he gave them to love each other.  He says whoever loves him will keep his word and it is God’s word that they will be keeping.  Then Jesus says that they will have a holy Companion—the Holy Spirit—to be with them forever and that the disciples are gifted with the peace of Jesus.

It would seem something of a natural progression to go from loving each other, the reception of the Holy Spirit, to receiving peace.  Jesus tells them (and now us) that this peace is not like the peace the world talks about.  That peace is more often the ending of a particular bit of violence which then brings temporary relief.  The peace that Jesus gives is a peace that comes from within ourselves.  This peace is the peace of God’s kingdom—justice, compassion, forgiveness, and, of course, love.  When one keeps Jesus “word,” peace is the result because keeping his word puts you right into the Kingdom of God:  what the Gospel of John calls eternal life.  So keeping Jesus’ word means loving God and neighbor.  That love is the very soul of the Holy Spirit.  And the gift of the Holy Spirit is peace which gives one a recognition of eternal life with God.  Let not your hearts be troubled.

                                                      Pastor Jeff Blackman


A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet. Judas has left to betray Jesus. The disciples lean in. Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

One commandment. One law. One litmus test for discipleship. Love.

Love is not about an emotion. Love is about words and actions that express concern for the well-being of the other.

There is a story in Isak Dinesen’s book Out of Africa about a boy named Kitau. He appeared at the author’s door one day to ask for a job as a domestic servant. She hired him but was surprised when after three months he asked her for a letter of recommendation to Sheik Ali bin Salim, a Muslim who lived in a nearby town. Dinesen offered to raise Kitau’s pay in order to keep him, but money was not his interest. Kitau had decided to become either a Christian or a Muslim, and his purpose in working for Dinesen had been to see, up close, the way a Christian lived. Now that he had worked for Dinesen and seen the ways of Christians, he would go and observe Sheik Ali to see how Muslims behave; then he would decide. The author remembers how she wished Kitau had told her that before he came to live with her.

What is the message of your words and actions today? Is it love?

On the journey with you,


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Change a Child's Story

Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ!
Change a Child’s Story has developed into thousands of stories all across the Iowa Conference and the North Central District. In significant ways, changing a child’s story through sharing books and the gift of reading together is changing our stories as the Body of Christ.
Here’s a few things we want you to be aware of for the NCD Conference and for the Iowa Annual Conference about Change a Child’s Story:
At the NC District Conference on May 1 we will be celebrating the stories that you and others will bring about your church’s ministry of giving books and the gift of reading. Be ready to briefly share with others the joy of Change a Child’s Story as we move toward the goal of 1 million books and 1 million hours of reading across Iowa by June, 2017. Be ready to share a bit of what your church has pledged for books and hours of ready, what you’ve received and what and where the books have been given and where the hours of reading have been taking place. No matter where you and others are on the journey of Change a Child’s Story, either getting ready to begin or along the path somewhere, we can celebrate what God shall, is, and has been doing!
At Annual Conference every church will be given the opportunity to log the number of pledges of books and hours of reading and the number of books and hours of reading that have already been given. At this point in time, we understand there may be a chart for every church to post this information as a way of visually seeing what God is doing. Plan on coming to Annual Conference with this information ready to share.
Go to iaumc.org and click on “Change a Child’s Story.” This will take you to the website link where you can find the pledge information. If you’ve not done this yet, please download it and record the information you presently have. Please note the link on the left hand side of the page: “Churches Pledging to Change a Child’s Story.” Churches who have already logged in their pledge are listed. Note the “suggested goal” listed. This is a figure based upon the average worship attendance of your church in 2014 X 10. This suggested goal will get us to a collective goal of 1 million books and 1 million hours of reading. Your church may have a different goal in mind. The main thing is to share in the goal for the good of a child and God’s love for every child!
Notice that many churches to date have pledged but have not yet logged in a specific goal. Some churches have not yet set a goal but have already collected hundreds of books and given many hours of reading! Great work, people of God!
We encourage you to update your church’s information for Change a Child’s Story as soon as possible, hopefully, before District or Annual Conference. If you need assistance, please contact any one of us; and we will help you as quickly as possible.
One more request: Have you found that God had given you a deep passion for Change a Child’s Story? If so, we need a few people to help coordinate Change a Child’s Story on the NC District and work with the Conference Team that is heading up Change a Child’s Story. A member of the Conference Team will be at the NC District Conference on May 1. We can make the connection and you can help us take Change a Child’s Story to a new level of God’s love for children.
Grace and Peace,
Katharine Yarnell, Alanna Warren, and Harlan Gillespie
North Central District Ministry Tream
Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church
North Central District Office: (515) 832-2784