Posted by andrew on January 15, 2016
In Your Hands
Renowned author Toni Morrison told the following parable in a lecture before the Swedish Academy:
An old blind woman lives on the town’s outskirts. Several children decide to fool her. One of them
says he has a bird in his hands and asks her to tell him if it is alive or dead. The woman is silent for a long time. Finally she announces, “I don’t know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands. It is in your hands.”
In his book, Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach, Peter L. Steinke suggests that this parable can be applied to the church. He says that the question is not whether or not your congregation is dead or alive. The most important question is whether or not your congregation is in responsible and responsive hands. Although most of us may argue that it is important whether or not our congregation is dead or alive, Steinke’s primary point is that if a congregation is in responsible and responsive hands that it will indeed be alive. If a congregation is not in responsible and responsive hands then most likely it is dying a slow death.
The Green Church of the Brethren is in your hands, it is in our hands. Our congregation will exhibit life if we continue the work of Jesus in a responsible and accountable manner. Our congregation will exhibit life if we are responsive to the individual and collective needs of those who make up this congregation. Following Steinke’s advice, let us continue to work together to ensure that this congregation, Christ’s church, remains in responsible and responsive hands.
Posted by andrew on July 27, 2015
Absolutely Fearless, Absurdly Happy, and Always in Trouble
Dan West was the founder of Heifer Project International (now called Heifer International) and he was instrumental in developing many Brethren Service Programs in the twentieth century. West once said that people who follow Christ should be “absolutely fearless, absurdly happy, always in trouble.” This is an interesting quote. It certainly gains our attention. So what does it mean for us to be absolutely fearless, absurdly happy, and always in trouble as we follow Christ?
Being a disciple of Jesus is not easy. There are many times when following Christ and helping to build God’s kingdom here on this earth requires that we be fearless. Sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zones and have a sense of fearlessness to do what Christ wants us to do.
At the same time, there are perhaps occasions when we engage in the ministry of the church and take ourselves too seriously. Another thing this quote is telling us is that it is important to have a sense of humor and to have fun while serving Christ. Whether or not we are “absurdly” happy is then up to us.
What about the last phrase of the quote? No one likes to be in trouble. The Gospels tell us that Jesus was frequently in trouble with the religious leaders of his time. It seems like Paul was always in trouble as he spent a good deal of time in prison for proclaiming the gospel. Following Christ may mean that we will have to rattle a few cages and shake a couple of trees and see what falls out. When we do this, some will not be happy and we will then be in trouble. As a denominational leader in the Church of the Brethren, Dan West understood this and I can relate to it as a pastor as well. Often when I am ready to perform a ministerial task, I will say to myself or others, “Let’s see what kind of trouble I can get into today.” When I say this, I am not intentionally trying to upset people, but I know if I do my job correctly, difficult situations and trouble spots will arise from time to time.
Dan West made his mark on the Church of the Brethren in the twentieth century and he helped the Church of the Brethren make its mark on the world. And he did it by being absolutely fearless, absurdly happy, and always in trouble. May these be words of wisdom and inspiration for us as we propel the church forward, peacefully, simply, and together.
Posted by andrew on
The Missing Epistle
For a number of years now, the pastor at Green Tree has included a piece in the Greeter under the title, Pastor’s Epistle. This is an opportunity for your pastor to share some words of meaning or devotion or even a challenge. Some of you have commented on the Pastor’s Epistles that I have written and I have appreciated such comments. Last month, I received permission from the editor of the Greeter (Mary R.) to test the waters a bit. I intentionally decided not to include a Pastor’s Epistle for the June Greeter. I was curious to see if we would receive any feedback. We have not. I could make several conclusions. Perhaps no one noticed or perhaps a number of you noticed and chose not to say anything. Maybe some of you noticed and thought I was just being lazy. I took the time to run it by a person or two. They noticed but figured I was overwhelmed with other things. It was no big deal. So perhaps many of you fall in that category as well. Maybe you noticed but instead of giving me a hard time, you gave me the benefit of the doubt. Rest assured, I will continue to compose writings for the Pastor’s Epistle section of the Greeter but I also appreciate your willingness to be kind, flexible and to not allow little things to get you bent out of shape.
This whole experiment reminds me of the importance of giving each other the benefit of the doubt. When something happens that we don’t like or agree with, instead of jumping to conclusions or rushing to judgment or being highly critical, let’s make an effort to give each other the benefit of the doubt. What this boils down to is simple kindness. At least once a month, Pat tells me it’s all about kindness. It’s about being kind to one another. She’s right. We need to be kind to our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, the people we worship with, and even those we don’t know very well. Jesus taught us to be kind and caring to each other. He taught us to show compassion to others.
Let me conclude by sharing that Pat and I greatly appreciate your incredible support as we dealt with a recent family crisis. Your love and kindness means a great deal to us. So let’s continue to love and care and support one another. And as we travel together on the journey of faith, let us remember to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Posted by andrew on
In early April, Pat and I put up a bluebird house hoping a family of bluebirds would build their spring nest there. We put the bird house at the right height and we had it facing east. At first there was hope as we saw a bluebird sit on top of the house for about ten minutes. But as far as we could tell, the bluebird never came back. Not long after that, a family of black capped chickadees took interest in the house and they are currently building a nest in it. On the one hand, Pat and I hoped and expected that a bluebird family would make a home in that bird house. On the other hand we are pleased that it isn’t sitting empty and we enjoy watching the black capped chickadees go in and out of the bird house as they build their nest.
In one sense this is a story about expectations. We embarked on the bluebird project with the expectation that a family of bluebirds would nest there. But instead another species of birds is living there. And that’s okay. As we go through life, we have certain hopes and expectations. Some of them pan out and others do not. What about the expectations that don’t pan out to our wishes? Sometimes it is a huge disappointment; and other times, the unmet expectations turn into other opportunities that may be even better than the original expectations that we had. Our hope is to trust in God that as we make plans and develop certain expectations, that He will walk with us and guide us along the path, especially when it takes unexpected turns and goes in directions we hadn’t planned for or thought of in the first place. May our prayer be that God will lead us wherever our faith journey takes us.
Posted by andrew on
Some of you know that last Spring I injured my back with a pulled muscle on the lower right side. I tried to treat it with rest but it simply would not heal and over time it got worse. So I visited a chiropractor. At first, I was in the office three days a week, then two days weekly, then once a week and now I am down to a treatment once a month or every six weeks. And without a doubt, healing has taken place. My back is much stronger and healthier and I hope to do a number of things this Spring and Summer that I was unable to do last year because of an injured back.
As Easter emerges upon us, it is important to remember that the death and resurrection of Christ gives healing to the world from brokenness and sin. Each year we celebrate the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. But Easter is also a reminder that the cross provides a healing aspect to all of us. It gives us new life when we are down and out. It fills us up when we are spiritually depleted. It paves the way to a healthy relationship between us and God. The cross tells us that Jesus died a painful death but we also know we can’t get to the empty tomb without the cross. The cross along with the empty tomb symbolizes wholeness, new life, and healing.
Have a Happy and Healing and Healthy Easter everyone!!
Posted by andrew on March 19, 2015
During a recent sermon, I quoted the following poem, “Patience is a virtue, catch it if you can. Seldom in a woman, never in a man.” This poem points out the differences between men and women by suggesting that women have more patience than men. Although in a general sense this may be true, I can honestly say that my father exhibited more patience than most people I have met. It is true that men and women possess different character traits because of their gender but we have to be careful that we don’t over analyze such differences. In fact Sandra Marchetti recently wrote the book, Men Are from Earth, Women Are from Earth . . . Deal with It! in an effort to encourage us not to take the “Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus” concept too far.
That said, what strikes me most in this little poem is that human beings in general have little patience. For most of us, waiting is not easy. And our culture does not teach us how to wait well. Our technologies move faster and faster so we don’t have to wait. We have more information and other things at our fingertips than ever before. So today, the idea of nurturing the virtue of patience appears to be a pretty tall order.
This time of year seems to provoke more waiting and patience than other times. As the month of February comes to an end, the cold and snowy months force us to wait for warmer and milder temperatures. Sometimes it feels as if it takes forever for Spring to arrive when we are in the midst of winter.
At the same time, we find ourselves waiting during this time of year as we move through the season of Lent. Lent is a time to focus on penitence and the dark aspects of life as we await the beauty of the resurrection of Easter Sunday. It takes time to embark on the Lenten journey. We muddle through six weeks of sacrifice and then we make our way through the humbleness of the Love Feast on Maundy Thursday and the subsequent darkness of Good Friday. But it is worth the wait. Because the light of Easter Sunday reminds us of the light and life of Jesus Christ which is everlasting and eternal. As a male or female, you may argue that you have more patience than others. You may be right. But it’s important to remember that some things are definitely worth waiting for. In fact, I like waiting for Easter Sunday each year because the wait reminds me that the love and grace of Jesus Christ are things that come with a cost. They require faith and sacrifice and patience. And regardless of the cost, the love and grace of Christ are things certainly worth the wait.
Posted by andrew on February 13, 2015
Many of you know that I interact with the children of the preschool on a daily basis. I greet them when they come into the church each morning. About once a month, I participate with them in a classroom activity. I also interact with them each day as they make their daily rounds to the bathroom.
Last February, the teacher and director of the preschool, Evelyn was talking to them about the importance of President’s Day. In the middle of her session, she pulled out a $5 bill and asked the children whose picture was on that bill. And without hesitation, they unanimously said it was Pastor Dave. Evelyn thought that was a bit strange but my face is thin and angular like President Lincoln’s. It’s a stretch, but maybe there is somewhat of a likeness. The next day, Evelyn taught the same lesson with the other preschool class, and they came up with the same answer. Who is on the $5 bill? Pastor Dave, of course!
Whether or not I look like President Lincoln is debatable but I think the children’s response goes further than that. Somehow they have learned to associate me as a leader inside the building where they attend preschool. They also know that leaders of our country are on our paper and coin currency. And with their creative minds at work, they made a connection.
Another President’s Day will soon be upon us. It is a day that we set aside to honor the presidents who have served as leaders of our nation. We look up to our leaders and we honor them on this special day. But the leadership of our lives does not end with the President of this country. The true and ultimate leader of our lives and our hearts is Jesus. Let us honor him in our worship and in our prayers. Just as our paper currency is stamped with the image of a president, let us be sure that the person and divinity of Jesus is stamped on our hearts.
Posted by andrew on September 22, 2014
Encourage One Another
For many years, the Deacon Body at Green Tree has implemented an Undershepherd Program where the members of the congregation have been divided among the members of the Deacons and they would offer support and care-giving to the individuals in the congregation. Sometimes the list of members for each Deacon could number over 20 family units. This made it difficult for the deacons to maintain the program and it got to the point that the program was no longer effective.
At its Spring Retreat in 2013, the Deacons spent a good deal of time discussing this dilemma, and they acknowledged that the Undershepherd Program was no longer working but they did not want to abandon the notion that people in the congregation would offer intentional support for each other. After much discussion and brainstorming, the Deacons developed an outline for a Church Encourager Program. The idea here is that anyone can be an encourager, not just a member of the Deacon Body. Each Encourager would be responsible for 5-7 family units instead of 20. A Supervising Team of three Deacons would oversee the program.
Each Church Encourager will attend a training and orientation session and will fulfill the following duties regarding their list of contacts: 1) make intentional monthly contacts including, but not limited to the following: phone calls, e-mail messages, visits, or the sending of notes or cards; 2) acknowledge milestones and special events in the lives of the members in their contact group (this would include birthdays, anniversaries, etc.); and 3) offer support to the members of their contact group regarding their spiritual journey as the relationship develops.
A number of people have already agreed to be Church Encouragers and the orientation and training sessions have also taken place. By the end of the month, the supervising team will distribute the list of contacts to each encourager and we expect the program to be up and running by the beginning of October.
I take the time to inform you of this so you know that a lot of work and thought has gone into the development of this program. Also, as an active participant in Green Tree, please expect your Church Encourager to be in contact with you in the near future. (See article on page 3) We hope and pray that this will be an effective program where the church is working together to be the church for each other. As 1 Thessalonians 5:11 states, “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”
Posted by andrew on September 5, 2014
On August 25, Pat and I will fly to England to visit my cousin and his family. They live in Oxford and have helped us plan our trip. It has been fun and exciting. We plan to visit with them in Oxford and take day trips to London, Stonehenge and other notable places. A short trip to Edinburgh, Scotland is also in the works as we look forward to taking in the historical beauty of that city and enjoying the International Festival that will be taking place while we are there. It should be quite an adventure.
Right now the word adventure is on my mind. We don’t always use this word when we talk about our faith or the work we do in the church. But following Christ and serving God can at times be quite an adventure. My time in Brethren Volunteer Service back in 1980-81 was an adventure for me. And I have had many adventures in the church and the pastoral ministry since I was ordained 27 years ago.
When you read this, the Summer season will be coming to a close and you will find yourself entering into the Fall season with all of its activities and adventures. At the same time, I don’t want us to forget those adventures that are awaiting us here at the church. Yes, we do have some activities scheduled on our Fall calendar, but I want us to think about what other adventures we can create or be part of. Too often we sit and wait for others to initiate programs and activities. Or we simply wait to see what will happen. My Fall challenge to each of you is to think about what new adventure in faith you could initiate or assist with at Green Tree this Fall. Such adventures don’t have to be big or significant. If you are not currently attending a Sunday School class, why not begin attending one and see where that adventure will take you? If the current Sunday School offerings don’t appeal to you, approach me and let’s get something started. Let’s see where that adventure will take us. If you haven’t talked to someone in a while, approach them and begin a conversation and see where that adventure takes you. If you haven’t prayed to God in a while, sit down in a quiet space and center your thoughts on God and let such an adventure unfold. As you can see, the possibilities are endless.
Life is full of adventures whether they be vacations or trips or events that bring some meaning to our lives. The same is true of our faith journeys. As we continue the work of Jesus, the question remains: what new faith adventures await us this Fall?
Posted by andrew on July 18, 2014
This year the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference will be held in Columbus, OH from July 2-6. Each year the leaders of the conference develop a theme in which they hope will help frame the mood of the conference and assist the delegates as they do the work of the church. The theme for this year’s conference is “Live as Courageous Disciples.”
Nancy Sollenberger Heishman is the moderator for the conference and she has this to say about the theme: “The times in which we live call for boldness, for courage, for fearless living that is faithful to the word and life of Jesus Christ. The world around us is hungry and thirsty for living examples of lives radically committed to following Jesus. More than ever, the church needs to be a community in which Jesus’ disciples spur one another on to live courageously in this world.
My dream for this coming year is that we will take steps toward living out the beginning of our denominational vision statement, which is: “Through scripture Jesus calls us to live as courageous disciples in word and action.”
As Sollenberger Heishman indicates, the theme for this year’s Annual Conference picks up on the Church of the Brethren Vision statement that was adopted by the delegates of the 2012 Annual Conference. You may recall that in 2012, following that year’s Annual Conference, we spent some time during worship interpreting and reflecting upon this vision statement. Allow me to repeat it here:
Through Scripture, Jesus calls us to
live as courageous disciples by word and action:
To surrender ourselves to God,
To embrace one another,
To express God’s love for all creation.
As this year’s Annual Conference demonstrates, a key element in our overall vision statement as a denomination is “to live as courageous disciples by word and action.” May we all aspire to be courageous disciples as we continue the work of Jesus locally and through our district and denominational ministry efforts.